A Tale of Two Systems
by Mick Pope
I hope in this report members will allow me the indulgence of including some non-Indian Railways content by way of comparison.
It was in the winter of 1994 that I made my last railway tour of India - the last WPs at Saharanpur, WGs at Haridwar and YP and YG at Jaipur and Udaipur. I had visited every year since then but the prospect of a steam-less Indian Railways filled me with depression and I stuck to the beaches and the tourist traps. Teresa and I did make one epic pre-Konkan trip from Delhi to Ernakulam, the train running 14 hours late causing us to waste most of our booked night in an expensive Taj Group hotel in Kochi. However a move of house this Summer, and the stress of sorting it out, meant that we had lots of leave to take and we decided that we could take a whole four weeks if we could keep our diaries free. It was agreed that the first week would be occupied by a rail trip somewhere in Southern India, allowing us to return to our beloved Goa for the balance of the month.
Having obtained good value Air India tickets from London Heathrow I set about organizing the railway itinerary. For the Indian leg of the tour I looked no further than the renowned Dr Dandapani and his Company SD Enterprises of Wembley. They are the agents for IR in the UK and had organized previous Rail-passes and reservations for me very successfully. Using their and the IRFCA website I sorted out a preliminary itinerary which involved Chennai, Pondicherry and Mysore. I had hoped to use the new link from Mysore to Mangalore and then travel up the KR to Madgaon, but hopes of this were dashed with the news that the link from Hassan to Mangalore would be by bus. A quick rethink pointed me to the Sunday only 7309 Yesvantpur to Vasco overnight. returning from Mysore to Bangalore on the 2008 Shatabdi. The passes arrive in good time and cost $US 135 for seven days. Even better, two days before departure, we are able to obtain our coach and seat numbers over the telephone.
This sorted, I needed to arrange the British leg of the tour. As I live in the north of England, Heathrow is not easily accessible without transiting central London and making oneself very unpopular taking heavy luggage on to the London Underground. This was resolved b y using the very useful Watford Junction to Heathrow road coach link which neatly cuts the corner and misses central London completely. The service to Watford is from Liverpool by Virgin Trains using one of their nine coach Pendolino EMUs with tilting mechanism. I had recently moved from Liverpool to a small town across the River Mersey, where I lived as a child. Thus to reach Liverpool involved a short journey along a secondary route by an Arriva Trains service and then onto the Merseyrail suburban network taking an electric, third rail pickup EMU (Electric Multiple Unit)under the river Mersey. Readers will pick up from this the privatised nature of the British railway network. The track and infrastructure are just about publicly owned, at arms length from direct government control, having been partly re-nationalised after various scandals over poor maintenance while in private hands. The right to run train services is by a franchise bid for by the various potential operators [significantly several of them have strong links to the road transport industry and one suspects they will jump at the opportunity to close lines and switch services to buses].
Ticket pricing on Virgin Trains is complex. I keyed in the appropriate times and dates on their internet site and was quoted GBP240 [approx INR21,000] for a return ticket, almost the cost of the air ticket to Mumbai! However single tickets, booked in advance, are much cheaper and I was quoted GBP26 [INR2200]. The return single was only 28 First Class, and I took this as a good opportunity to sample this form of travel.
The trip was now arranged and I could sit back and savour the treats to come!
November 18th, the day of departure, dawns cool but bright. We make our way to our local station. Forty years ago, as a child, I remember watching a little six-coupled tank engine delivering coal and petroleum products to the goods yard. Today the site is covered by a supermarket and car park, and the station buildings have been demolished and replaced by bus-stop type shelters. Tickets are issued by a conductor on the train. Once trainloads of hoppers loaded with iron ore [probably from India] pounded through the station hauled by the last steam locomotives to be built for British Railways, the highly successful 9F 2-10-0s. This traffic ran from Bidston Dock [Birkenhead, on the opposite bank of the River Mersey to Liverpool] to Shotton steelworks just across the border in Wales. Birkenhead boasted through trains to London Paddington and a healthy traffic in grain, cattle, oil and general freight. Today not one single freight train operates in the area, the through trains to London are long a memory, the blast furnaces long since demolished and the only rail traffic is for commuters in EMU (Electric Multiple Unit)and DMU stock. Our blue liveried 2 coach 150 class DMU with bus type seats arrives and takes us three stops down the line to Bidston Junction where we transfer to a three coach Merseyrail EMU (Electric Multiple Unit)in silver and yellow livery. This system operates on the 650v DC third rail pick-up. I often wonder what the death toll would be on Indian Railways if they had adopted this system for suburban traffic!
Our EMU (Electric Multiple Unit)circles under the centre of Liverpool on a loop line. The city once had three surface termini, Exchange, Central and Lime Street. Today Exchange is closed and its decorative facade hides an office complex. The lines that served it are now electrified and dive underground to pass under the site of the old station. Liverpool Central is now an underground only interchange and only Lime Street survives for main-line trains. At Lime Street we take the lift to the surface rather than the long escalator. We locate the Virgin service which operates from a dedicated platform with its own ticket office that contains electronic ticket machines. Pendolinos are nine coach EMUs with two pantographs, one of which is active depending on the direction of travel. The doors are of the power operated plug type and have digital displays giving the destination and coach number. The seating is a bit of a lottery, some being pairs of seats facing across a table while others are pairs of seats in line, some of which have no adjacent window. Luckily we have seats across a table. There are aircraft type consoles for audio channels and sockets for lap-tops. There is an on-train shop selling drinks, snacks and reading matter, the consumables being very over-priced. The toilets have revolving doors operated by a push button. I try to avoid using them as mechanical devices tend to go wrong when I touch them! Our reserved seats are marked by an insert card in the seat-back which indicates the station of boarding and destination and a digital display on the coach wall announces that the seats are unavailable [unreserved seats having an available display].
Departure is on time and we set out through the deep rock cuttings and tunnels which take us under the highest part of the city. We emerge at Edge Hill, once the site of a large marshalling yard, carriage sidings and locomotive depot. Now it is all but deserted apart from some engineer's sidings. We speed on to Crewe, one of the busiest junctions in the UK and once home to a locomotive works and two large steam sheds. Today it has a much reduced repair facility and an electric depot. The diesel shed is being demolished as we pass through. The rest of the journey is uneventful. The Pendolino makes nothing more than a swish and a hum as it gets up to speeds of 200kmph. The only other item of interest on-route is the sight of a couple of Virgin Thunderbird locomotives at Rugby. These are designated Class 57 and are rebuilds, with GM power units, of class 47, a numerous first generation diesel now almost extinct. The nickname Thunderbirds is from a children's TV puppet show of the 1960s in which the heroes were an organization called International Rescue, who rescued people in peril. The Class 57s role is to rescue failed trains or haul electric units over dead sections. Each loco carries a nameplate bearing the name of one of the characters from the series.
We arrive at Watford Junction and find the link coach waiting. Arriving at Heathrow I marvel at the size of the place, four terminals forming what amounts to a small city in itself. Our terminal is crowded and the facilities undergoing refurbishment makes this worse. Eventually our flight is called and we board. The flight is boring as usual and we manage to sleep fitfully. At least the in-flight meal is tasty compared to the fare we usually suffer on charter holiday flights. At last we hit Mumbai and the next stage of the adventure begins.
We travel to Mumbai to Chennai by Jet Airways, always a good experience - pleasant staff and no seats held together by sticky tape like the last Indian Airways flight I took. It is twenty five years since I was last in Madras, as it was then, and I don't recognise anything. A long taxi ride takes us to our booked hotel which is of the business type and some way out of town. We hit the restaurant and bar, the latter an interesting experience for Teresa as, as is the case wherever we go outside Goa, she is the only female. Women's emancipation still has a long way to go! Later we flop into bed to catch up on much needed sleep.
Arising in the morning I throw open the curtains and am immediately reminded that this is India as I am confronted with the sight of twenty or so men paying their morning call of nature on the waste ground next to the hotel, an odd juxtaposition which seems to symbolise India in transition to a major economic power but still with some of the trappings of the Third World. Today is for site-seeing, although Chennai seems to have little to offer other than shopping. We are impressed by the Spencer Plaza.
The next morning is the start of the rail adventure. An early taxi ride takes us to Egmore Station for the 07.25 departure of the Guruvayur Express. Here I get my first lesson in not taking one's spouse on a railfan trip. Having located our seats I grab a camera and make for the door to photograph whatever is on the head of the train. Were are you going? I am asked, You can't leave me. What happens if the train goes without you? It is clear I am in big trouble if I exit and so we depart without knowing what is doing the work [it later transpires it is a WAP4]. Egmore was MG when I was last here and the loco shed housed YP, YG and a few WD. Now it is BG. I look out for Tambaram but it is difficult to know which side offers the most interest and the dirty AC 2 Tier class windows don't help. I notice the MG as we leave but we pass no more than one train during the journey.
Villupuram looks to be an interesting junction and I notice a nice six coupled shunter in blue livery in the sidings. We get off the Guruvayur and a kindly man on the platform asks where we are going. He claims the Pondicherry train is due out in five minutes from the opposite platform. This requires a sustained dash with me carrying both heavy suitcases and a backpack over the footbridge, after which I am purple in the face and fast approaching a heart attack as the conditions are hot, overcast and steamy. As it turns out there is no sign of the Pondicherry passenger in the platform but it soon arrives behind a WAM4 20508 in green and yellow livery. There are few passengers and it makes a pleasant change to be next to a window with nothing more than bars between us and the outside world. We branch off sharply to the left onto the single track line to Pondicherry. The countryside is flat and very green and we pass some interesting square brick kilns. The loco is honking furiously as there are many level crossings. Nothing of any great railway interest is passed on the journey.
We roll into Pondicherry on time. There are three platform faces and this seems a little excessive for a station that sees only four return workings each day. There is no other rolling stock to be seen. I note that the line continues past the station and a map I possess shows this too. Does, or did, this serve a dock or industrial site? There appears to be no freight traffic. We take a rickshaw to our hotel, the Annamalai, which turns out to be very modern and comfortable. Pondicherry looks interesting but we have only one day to explore. The weather is still overcast and the sea is rough as there is a strong wind. All the restaurants recommended in the Lonely Planet guide seem to be closed or disappeared so we eat at Pizza Hut.
The next morning we make our way back to the station where the stock of the 195/186 passenger is already in the platform with Erode WAP4 22654 at the head. I take some photos recalling that the Lonely Planet guide remarks that goats outnumber passengers on this station and, indeed, the goats are present. Today there are some parcel vans in the sidings and later I note some attached to the following passenger train when it arrives at Villupuram. At this point I need to digress on the subject of the additional hindrances that Western railfans suffer in India - beggars and curious people. Of course we have beggars in the UK but they are invariably drug or alcohol addicts who lurk in doorways and alleyways asking for ten pence for a cup of coffee and one knows the money will never go towards coffee. Indian beggars fall into two categories in my opinion, genuine and what I would refer to as chancers. The former, usually identified by some degree of physical handicap, I accept and note that local people often donate a small amount, as I do myself. The latter are just ordinary people out to make a quick rupee from the obviously rich Westerner. One can see them do a double take as the wait for their train, suddenly catch sight of you and go straight into begging mode - baba, baba, with hands outstretched. This is a great irritation, firstly because you are just trying to focus on the fast approaching train, secondly because they cause embarrassment to fellow passengers. Curious people sometimes just want to strike up a conversation but have been known to peer into the camera lens from close range, which again causes some disruption of photography. Gangs of little boys are probably the worst as they can get quite over-excited and, at times, naughty. I recall one group trip on the Shantipur NG where one unfortunate member, who was rather odd in appearance, was pursued by a large gang of youths wherever he went and things got quite threatening. Pondicherry on this particular day has examples of all these types. An old lady spots me from across the adjoining platform and pursues me demanding money as do several young boys who are playing hide and seek between the wheels of the train. Fortunately the goats are well behaved when I photograph one admiring the WAP4.
We depart more or less on time and make leisurely progress. At Chinnababusamudhram [surely one of the longest named stations] we cross old friend WAM4 20508 on the Tirupathi - Pondy passenger. At Villupuram we encounter one of the worst aspects of rail travel in India. The platform is packed with passengers waiting for our train and, as we try to exit with heavy baggage, they fight to get onboard with absolutely no common sense telling them that it might be easier if they let us off first. The British may be terrible at cricket and just about everything else but we do know how to form a decent queue! Fortunately I am in front, soon lose patience and project my six foot two inch, 117kg bulk into space, probably crushing several would-be travellers, and allowing four foot eleven inch Teresa to follow in my wake as the invaders lick their wounds.
This time we have a longer stop-over at Villupuram and there is time to take lots of photos. I leave Teresa to deal with the beggars while I nip across to the MG side to photograph two YDMs [6328 and 6516] in the sidings and another in the platform waiting to depart. Also in the sidings is an old rail crane TSC 30011, ex South India Railway, built by Cowans Sheldon of Carlisle, England in 1935.This seems to be based at VP. Back over on the BG side two WDM2 [17116 and 16666] stand in the short siding outside the VIP Lounge [rather a grand title for a brick shed] waiting to relieve electric locos coming south. WAP4 22250 is also around and 20508 returns from Pondy. Eventually the Guruvayur arrives behind WDP3 15503 and I assume the WAP4 took over. It is soon dark and there is little more to see. Back to Chennai for a change of station.
Back to Chennai and we transfer to Central station. I always find Indian stations by night very romantic., there is so much bustle and activity. We locate the 6222 Chennai-Mysore Express and struggle on board coach A1. At 21.45 we depart and soon settle down in our berths for the night. Overnight travel saves on time and hotel costs but does not allow observation of railway activity.
We awake to chai and signs of gauge conversion. Progress is slow as we have to wait in loops for various trains to cross on the single line. Approaching Mysore there is a large goods yard at a lower level which seems quite busy. Mysore seems a diminished railway location with large grassy area where I assume MG tracks once stood. There is a dilapidated MG diesel shed with a couple of locos. We are touted for a taxi which turns out quite reasonable, probably because the driver is hoping to catch us for a tourist trip the following day. We stay at the Green Hotel which is one of those quaint palace hotels set in pleasant gardens. On route I notice a nice bit of dual gauge track passing under the road and make a note to explore further on a future trip. The next day is devoted to being tourists [one has to amuse the lady to retain her good humour].
On 23rd November we sample a Shatabdi for the first time. Arriving at the station in good time[ how convenient for me!] I have the opportunity to explore a little. There I a little MG activity and I photograph another rail crane. I seem to be getting quite a collection over the years. The BG sidings are full of carriages including the Accident Train. The Shatabdi arrives behind WDP4 20015 which makes a surprisingly rapid turnaround. These locos, and their freight counterparts, slightly resemble the British Class 66, GM built in Canada and now the dominant form of motive power on freight duty, except that the British locos are twin cab. I do wonder about the visibility from these single ended units and the somewhat unbalanced appearance that wedge shape at the non-cab end gives, rather as if two locos had been welded together. I think the WDP3s are more aesthetically pleasing.
Teresa is impressed with the Shatabdi and the service offered. It also seems to make for a much quicker journey than the outward trip. I sit and contemplate the differences between the internal fittings of British and Indian carriages. Obviously conditions differ and that accounts for some of the difference, for example the lack of need for fans in British trains [unless you find the AC has failed on a hot summers day!]. Where British trains seem lightly made with pre-stressed body shells plastic mouldings and fabric seats, Indian stock seems built out of heavier materials, seat frames made of angle iron and upholstery in shiny plastic. British doors open automatically at the push of a button whereas Indian ones are heavy enough to break a limb if they slam on you.
Arrival in Bangalore is all too quick and I try to remember how things looked in 1979 when I last visited. I eventually realise that where the locos stable is just opposite where the MG steam shed was situated. This is just a flying visit and there is no time to explore further. We are well land truly touted at the station exit and with hindsight I realise I should have read the Lonely Planet guide which warns about private drivers displaying bogus government approved fare sheets. We pay INR300 for a fare to our hotel that should have been no more than INR100. By this time we just want to be in Goa and relax but there is one last endurance test to come!
Up the following morning and we take a taxi to Yesvantpur. Again I am disorientated by the changes. When last here in 1979 it was a quiet rural station on the MG with a small loco depot containing YG, YP and YD. I have some time ago uploaded a pic of a passenger departure from here behind a YP. Today the site seems in the middle of rebuilding and is now all BG. We have a long wait for the 7309 YPR - Vasco Express but there is no refreshment facility open when we arrive and nowhere to sit on the platform, which resembles a building site. Eventually a small kiosk opens and we can get a drink and some biscuits. Things get worse when a young beggar girl of about six years of age arrives. When meeting with no luck she disappears across the tracks to returns a few minutes later with her baby brother in her arms. It seems a supreme irony that she chooses us as we have both spent our working lifetimes as social workers and have taken such children and their parents in front of the court for neglect, me to represent the child's interests and Teresa to represent the local government child protection agency and latterly to find adoptive homes! It is worth INR10 to get rid of them though.
There is enough activity to keep me interested including 18898 on the Kachaguda passenger and KJM's 17479 standing in Platform 1. The 7309 rake is standing in the platform and it eventually dawns on me that our coach is a 3 tier sleeper which does not go down well with Teresa. I recall seeing in the paper that there were no seats available on this train for some time to come, probably as it only runs weekly, and I assume the 3 tier was all that was left when we booked. We eventually get to board and our compartment I full. An elderly couple have the lower berths [by elderly I mean slightly older than me] and we have a middle and an upper berth. The old couple want to get down to sleep at the earliest opportunity after we have eaten our paper wrapped biryani and so we have to retire to our berths. I have to drag by arthritic body up into the top bunk along with my backpack which contains cameras, money etc as there is no under seat space and the train is too crowded to risk leaving it below. There follows an uncomfortable night, the only entertainment being waiting for the cockroach to emerge from somewhere beneath me and pass inches from my nose!
I must have slept a little as it is approaching dawn when people start to stir although no-one seems to know where we are. We were already half an hour late at Arsikere and I am hoping we are much later as this would mean descending Braganza ghats in daylight. It is not to be and I work out that we are at Kolem as dawn breaks as there are rakes of BOXNs in the sidings and double headed motive power coupling up to them.The old couple are still tucked up in their bedrolls and I find this annoying on a train that is scheduled to arrive as Vasco at 6am and other passengers, us included, need to get at their belongings and prepare for getting off at Madgaon. I worry that we may not make it to the door but this proves not to be the case. We quickly hire a prepaid taxi and this deposits us outside the Sea Coin Hotel Colva and we can catch up on some sleep.
And so ends the train-riding part of the trip.
Sitting facing the Arabian Sea with a cold beer in ones hand is all very well but those diesels honking away on the KR behind you can begin to get ones railfan nerves twitching! I decide that the final Thursday of my stay in Goa would be a good time to visit Senaulim, somewhere I had visited the previous year but in cloudy conditions. It also happens to be the day that the Delhi - Trivandrum Radjhani runs. I hire a bicycle for INR100 and set out at dawn for the couple of miles to the railway. It is a blessing that the roads are quiet at this time of day.
Senaulim has its pluses and minuses as a photographic location. On one hand it is quite photogenic but on the other lighting conditions are not good for northbound trains for much of the day as they come straight out of the sun. The light also tends to be quite dappled as there are many overhanging trees. The ticket office is open and a member of staff [station master, ticket clerk, general dogsbody?] is on duty. The office opens only to sell tickets for the small number of trains that stop here, mainly the Vasco - Kolem locals. After the morning train has gone the ticket office is locked and the member of staff disappears. This is a busy section of line and there is much to occupy the time. For early morning trains the light is not good and the DMU is the only decent shot I get before the sun has risen higher.
My morning log shows the following trains:
- 07-25 WDM2 16853 on Santwadi - Diva passenger
- 07-43 WDM2 17526 on Vasco - Kolem passenger
- 07-48 WDM2 16984 on Ernakulam - Okha passenger
- 08-05 DMU
- 08-35 WDM2 14032 on Kacheguda - Vasco passenger
- 09-25 WDG4 12009+12012 northbound BOXN rake
- 09-26 WDG4 12027+12091 southbound BOXN rake
- 09-55 WDM2 light engine northbound *
- 10-10 WDP4 northbound passenger to Vasco
- 10-40 WDM2 18623 light engine southbound
- 11-00 WDP4 20032 southbound ex Mumbai CST
After this my record taking got a little unclear but other trains included WDM1680 on a northbound passenger and 18561 on KR1. I never got to see the southbound Rajdhani, it was either running late [the track maintainance?] or my timetable was out of date.
An interesting feature of the day was WDM2 18623, which seemed to be making an uneventful progress towards me until it was very nearly upon me when I suddenly realised that, while its front end was clear, it was trailing a cloud of jet black smoke. After it had passed, day turned into night!
Also of interest was the arrival from the Madgaon direction of a Plassermatic tamping machine which proceeded to do whatever tamping machines do on the northbound track before departing back in the direction from whence it had come.
Now, those who own digital cameras will know all about shutter delay. This, my friends, is why you will not see my picture of the northbound Radjhani on this particular day. Had I used my trusty 35mm SLR I am sure this would not be the case - quick thumb action and manual zoom would have given me about four shots. I set up for the shot but so rapid was the progress of this crack train that I got only a blurred shot of the rear half of the WDP4 on the front. Perhaps one day I will get to judge the delay better but electric zoom is always going to be a problem.
Now Senaulim is a very quiet spot apart from the trains. Passengers are few and local people leave you in peace. The only entertainment between services tends to be the regular passage of cows, dogs and pigs across the tracks. However I got a beggar. I must have some sort of built in radio beacon for them. This seemed to be a genuine Type1 chap of the itinerant sub-class. I paid him his INR10 in return for him keeping well out of my shots. He took up residence fifty metres up the platform and we co-existed quite happily. The station master returned and enquired anxiously if I had missed my train and I tried to explain that I was not travelling, just looking. I eventually got through to him and he helpfully filled me in on what to expect, although his knowledge extended only to trains that stopped at the station.
Being an obviously foreign railfan attracts comments from passing trains. Usually this is just Hello or Where are you from? However on this occasion I got a British out.I am not sure if this was a somewhat outdated political demand or supplying me with news of England's progress in the current Ashes test match against Australia [no comment from John Lacey thank you!]
By 2pm I was getting hot and things had gone quiet on the track. I therefore made a very hot and sweaty return journey on my bicycle and fell into Goodman's bar in Colva for a cold beer. Thus ended my most recent acquaintance with Indian Railways.
The return journey to the UK usually seems quicker but this time there was a long layover in Mumbai for the 07-25 flight to Heathrow. I hope Mumbai residents will forgive me for saying that, in contrast to your excellent domestic airport, your international terminal is very poor indeed for a city that is thriving. There are virtually no pre-check-in facilities and I calculated there to be about 30 seats for those forced to wait. The snack kiosk wallah seemed to charge what he thought he could get from each customer, in my case INR120 for a frozen cheese sandwich reheated in a microwave until the filling had the consistency of napalm. Once through check-in the restaurant proved a big let-down - INR250 for a beer that cost INR40 in Goa and an alleged non-veg pasta carbonara that was day-glow pink in colour and I had to ask what made it different from the veg version as it contained no identifiable meat or fish. The waiter just shrugged his shoulders.
Getting on the plan was a relief and it proved to be a half empty 747 which meant we could stretch across four seats and sleep most of the way home. Back at Heathrow it was the original route in reverse. Being a Saturday the M25 motorway traffic was at crawling pace and we only just made our connection at Watford Junction. On this occasion we had to change at Birmingham International, one of those fringe stations a bit like Yestvantpur. On this leg of the journey we had First Class seats. They are in a 2+1 configuration on either side of a central isle offering more room than standard class which is 2+2. Again I was impressed by how quiet these trains are, the loudest noise being the rattling of the plastic fittings. The tilting can be quite disconcerting. If one reads it can induce nausea. There is a point just north of Watford where the rail-track runs parallel to a canal. As the train tilts the horizon suddenly heads skywards and there is an optical illusion as one expects the water to be running out of the canal as it seems to be at an angle of 30 degrees!
Arrival in Liverpool was after dark and it was cold. The final train journey on the EMU (Electric Multiple Unit)was soon over but there was a wait of 40 minutes for the diesel connection. On arriving at my front path I tripped over a paving stone and an x-ray some days later showed me to have a broken toe [well this is a trip report!] - something to remember the holiday by!
I am left to ponder on the contrast between the two railway systems. Of course it is difficult to compare as conditions are so different. In the UK most long-distance trains complete their journeys in under seven hours and there are very few sleeper services. Road is king as far as most travellers are concerned, be they commuting to work or undertaking longer journeys. Hence the roads tend to be choked with cars and trucks [as most freight traffic also travels by road] and cities are full of parked cars and empty buses and trains. Most long distance passenger trains are DMU (Diesel Multiple Unit) or EMU (Electric Multiple Unit)and, in my view, this makes them less interesting. Freight is in the hands of virtually one class of locomotives. Staffing has been cut and many local stations are unstaffed. Ticket prices are high for unplanned long-distance journeys.
India has much more to offer the raifan in terms of long - distance named trains hauled by real locomotives. Comforts for passengers could be improved but local and climatic conditions work against this. Cockroaches and rats on trains do not impress those from the West nor does the stink from the tracks in stations. I hope India thinks long and hard about its future transport system and learns from others mistakes. In a planet rapidly running out of resources, oil in particular, and where we are wrecking the climate through emissions and poisoning our population in the streets, there is a clear case for an integrated transport system. This may need to be subsidised to discourage the growth of private car use or combined with disincentives to use such private transport. I dread to think what will happen on India's already chaotic and poor quality roads as car ownership grows. Freight traffic also needs to be kept on the rails wherever possible. Don't destroy the infrastructure as we have in the UK, closing lines and selling off freight yards for housing, shops, car parks and industry. Above all don't flirt with privatisation unless it is strictly regulated - profit for shareholders today at the expense of everyone's future and their safety while travelling.
Having reminded myself of the good and the bad points of railfanning [can't get used to using that as a verb or abstract noun - in the UK we have a railfan and that is it] in India I am sure by next year I will be in need of another fix and will risk beggars and cockroaches to get it!