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Vol. XXXII No. 19, January 16-31, 2023
The talk of the town – an Indian Railways innovation that is probably the best thing to happen since April 16, 1953 – finally made a stop in our Singara Chennai. Yes, our city now has its own Vande Bharat (VB) Express to Mysuru. Given that nearly every social media handle including that of Minister for Railways was going ballistic with praise for the VB Express, I wanted to see if the hype was truly worth it. So, I made a trip from Chennai to Mysuru on this train along with a group of fellow rail enthusiasts. Here’s our review.
First, the train. It is indeed a wonderful piece of engineering and innovation. The acceleration is superb, living up to the hype. The ride comfort is excellent, absolutely no jerks or oscillations inside the coach at all. The seats recline reasonably well, providing comfort to the rider who has to sit for more than six hours during a journey. The ride is almost silent, save the seats in the coaches that have traction motors – those betray a bit of noise.
The braking and acceleration are quite smooth without any jerks – this was our biggest surprise, given that the LHB platform on which this was designed is known for its jerky rides when braking and accelerating. It appears as if a lot of homework has gone into designing a jerk-free ride. Also absent was the rhythmic, but irritating clickety-clack of flat wheels – these are probably early days for any of the wheel sets to have developed flat wheels. This is something that needs to be watched over a few weeks or months.
The general cleanliness is top-notch. The on-board housekeeping staff ensure that this is maintained throughout the journey.
Coming to a detailed view of the seating, it was quite comfortable in the AC Chair Car. The seats reclined reasonably and there were individual charging sockets for laptops and mobiles. However, the placement of the bottle holder and the charging socket could have been better. Both these are right near the floor, making them a little difficult to access, particularly for those of us who are well-built. The design of the bottle holder is quite good, for it is not a flimsy wire basket; but the placement reduces a bit of leg space. Designers of future editions of this train set should try out something different to push the comfort a couple of notches higher.
Based on complaints shared on social media including various What’s App groups, the Executive Class passengers appear to have found the seats quite hard. I have not had a look at those, though.
As for catering, it must be admitted that it was not top-notch. It took a good forty minutes or so to get the first trays comprising a sample pack of cookies along with a premix tea sachet. We had to wait a bit more for the hot water for the premix, too. Also surprising was the fact that our coach did not have any coffee – the packets had to be procured from adjacent coaches. The quality of the premix tea and coffee were both good, though.
The breakfast tray contained three idlis, a vada, and a bit of rava kesari. The ice-cold coconut chutney was already stale, clearly indicating it was sent into the cold storage after it was beginning to go bad. The sambhar, however, was very good and piping hot. It was a good accompaniment for the not-too-soft and just-turned-cold idlis and vada. The kesari was quite good.
Those who opted for non-vegetarian food got a slightly more liberal serving of an omelette, bread slices with butter, a couple of cutlets and tomato sauce. Those who had the non-vegetarian food were of the opinion that the omelette was okay, but the cutlets, not so good.
The caterers later gave us a tetrapack of apple juice, but the straws were in short supply. They were complaining that the stock contained a lesser number of straws than the juice packs. Small comfort for someone who is left to punch a hole and drink from the pack.
There ended the catering for the passengers who boarded at Chennai – those boarding at Bengaluru would be given the tea kit plus cookies, while the Chennai pax twiddled their thumbs. I am not sure about the quality of lunch served to the Mysuru Chennai passengers, so no comments there.
On the whole, the catering does not match up to both the premium nature of this train and the catering charges as part of the fare. On the outgoing journey, there is no lunch; on the return, there is no dinner. Passengers would be expecting lunch when going from Chennai to Mysuru, but get nothing after around 08.30 when the tetrapak is given. Similarly, given the departure of 1305 from Mysuru, many passengers would board after lunch or would carry lunch. They would be least expecting a standard lunch to be served. Indian Railways (IR) could well make it explicit to passengers as to what to expect and what not to. For the onward journey from Chennai to Mysuru, another serving of tea/coffee would not hurt at all, given that quite a few passengers may choose not to have it. I do not know if I am being too radical here, but what about giving a credit of food coupons and allowing the passengers to choose from a menu? Passengers can choose up to the previous evening for the onward journey and up to probably 8 am for the return journey.
Finally, the scheduling. This is, with due apologies for being very harsh, the worst thing that could be done by IR to the premium segment in this sector. Two premium trains departing within 10 minutes of each other and closely following all the way to Mysuru raises a lot of eyebrows. Neither halt at Krishnarajapuram, the station where most IT company executives would like to get off. In addition, neither runs on a Wednesday. All it takes is a bit of tweak to the maintenance schedules to give different days off for these trains. In addition, the premium charged for the VB is nowhere justified given that it is just about 20 minutes faster than the Shatabdi in one direction between the sector that matters – Chennai to Bengaluru. Of course, some works are in progress that should make the trains faster – but those benefits will be available to the Shatabdi also (unless the authorities decide to give these benefits only to the VB).
It would be ideal to speed up VB to arrive at Bengaluru in 3 hours 45 minutes at least to justify the premium pricing. This should be doable in the next few months, if not weeks. Secondly, if IR decides to continue with the existing scheduling for both VB and Shatabdi, and run both to Mysuru, they can consider shifting the Double Decker to Chengalpattu or Tambaram. It is certainly not beyond feasible, but some things have to be tweaked – mainly the primary maintenance schedule and location.
The final score is as below:
Ride quality – 4.5/5
Acceleration – 4.5/5
Seating – 3/5
Catering – 2/5
Scheduling – 1/5