Duronto blazing new tracks

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Flagging off the Kolkata-New Delhi Duronto.
Flagging off the Kolkata-New Delhi Duronto.

Santanu Sanyal

On March 3, 1969, the country’s first super-fast express train, Rajdhani Express, was flagged off from Howrah station. The train reached New Delhi on completing the distance of 1,441 km in record time of 17 hours 10 minutes. It was a memorable event at that time.

Now, more than 40 years later, “Duronto”, the latest showpiece of the Indian Railways, is set to take over the prime position so far held by Rajdhani. Last Friday, the New Delhi-bound Duronto was flagged off by the Railway Minister, Ms Mamata Banerjee, at Sealdah Station in Kolkata. The train was delayed by half-an-hour on the route but, according to railway sources, reached New Delhi the next day before time. Sources say the Duronto will cover the distance in 16 hours 20 minutes.

Shades of Rajdhani

Rajdhani’s glamour has been fading for the past few years, ever since its speed was brought down and more stops were allowed, under political pressure, for passengers on the route. But this was not so when the train was launched some 40 years ago.

All passengers on board then were New Delhi-bound and there only three operational stops on the route at Gomoh, Mughal Sarai and Kanpur. There is thus a similarity between Duronto and Rajdhani as it was earlier. Duronto too will have on board only New Delhi-bound passengers and three stops at Dhanbad, Mughal Sarai and Kanpur for operational reasons.

The similarity between Duronto and Rajdhani does not end there. When launched, Rajdhani used to run twice a week. The same is true about today’s Duronto. The Rajdhani was fully air-conditioned, so is Duronto. Also, the cost of tickets in Duronto, like Rajdhani, will cover the cost of meal including tea and breakfast.

Differences too

But there are differences too. First, of course, is the speed. Duronto will run at a faster speed. Unlike Rajdhani, Duronto has a new air-conditioned Economy Class to accommodate more passengers. The minimum fare in Duronto is less than that in Rajdhani. When launched, Rajdhani had a total of nine coaches while Duronto now has 16 coaches. Also, Duronto is splashed with many colours, perhaps for the first time in the history of Indian Railways.

On September 21, the Home Minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, will inaugurate at Chennai the Chennai-Nizamuddin Duronto. This Duronto will have stainless steel coaches, which are lighter, anti-corrosive and more durable than the conventional steel. They will enable the train to run at a faster speed, a maximum of 130 km per hour, track conditions permitting, against the 110 km per hour of the Sealdah-New Delhi Duronto, with its conventional steel coaches.

Today almost all state capitals are connected to New Delhi by Rajdhani Express trains. Indian Railways hopes to introduce a total of 14 Duronto trains on various routes. One hopes that the Duronto, like the Rajdhani, will not be stripped of its prime position and glamour over the years.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated September 21, 2009)
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