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All aboard the Vande Bharat Express

Garima Singh | Updated on October 11, 2019 Published on October 11, 2019

Rapid rider: The train picks up a maximum speed of 130 km per hour, making it the fastest in India - R V Moorthy   -  The Hindu

The government seeks to boost tourism to pilgrim centres as well as enliven train travel with its 16-coach flagship

The train looks impressive — as it should. All white and with blue stripes, it is squeaky clean and spanking new. The fastest train in the Indian Railways, the Vande Bharat Express, also comes with a host of amenities.

Flagged off by home minister Amit Shah last week, the train connects Delhi to Katra, the site of the Vaishno Devi Temple in the Union Territory of Jammu.

With 16 coaches — including two executive passenger cars — the train will run on all days of the week, barring Tuesdays, and stop at three stations en route: Ambala Cantonment, Ludhiana and Jammu Tawi.

Just how different is it from other super-fast trains? For one, it picks up a maximum speed of 130 km per hour, making it the fastest on Indian tracks. There are broad passages between coaches, and sensor-aided doors that open on their own. The seats in the air-conditioned coaches, upholstered in shades of pink, can turn 180 degrees, giving passengers a clearer view of the outside.

The train starts from New Delhi Railway Station at 6am and reaches Katra in eight hours — four hours earlier than the 12 hours that most other trains take to cover the 650-km stretch. It starts from Katra at 3pm and reaches Delhi at 11pm. It takes about two hours to reach Ambala from New Delhi.

Every year, lakhs of devotees visit the Vaishno Devi shrine, and the government holds that the new train service will lead to a surge in the number of pilgrims. It is part of a plan to boost spiritual tourism in the country by making travel easier for devotees. This is the second Vande Bharat Express, the first — running between New Delhi and Varanasi, another holy city — was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this year.

The pantry area between coaches is well-equipped with deep freezers, microwaves, bottle cooler cabinets and an RO (reverse osmosis) drinking water system.

A machine installed at the first and last coaches piques our interest. It turns out to be a plastic water bottle crusher (to ensure they are not refilled and sold illegally). The crushed plastic waste is then recycled.

Another interesting feature of this train is the regenerative brake system which, authorities say, leads to nearly 30 per cent saving in electricity consumption.

The train is disabled-friendly, with wheelchair access available both in the coaches and the toilets. All the toilets use the environment-friendly bio-vacuum system of decomposing waste with the help of bacteria.

To ensure added security, each coach has been equipped with six CCTV cameras. In view of the tense situation prevailing in Jammu and Kashmir, following the recent abrogation of Article 370 granting the state a special status, the safety of the passengers has been an issue of concern. The Railways will deploy special forces, Commandos for Railways Security (CORAS), at sensitive spots along the train’s route.

The breakfast fare consists of sandwiches, breads, boiled vegetables, cutlet, chhole and parantha, served on a tray. Because the train mostly caters to pilgrims, only vegetarian food is served.

The train is also equipped with on-board hotspot and Wi-Fi connections.

Technology has also been put to use to make the journey easier for the engine drivers. The driver’s cabin has been constructed in such a way as to reduce noise levels, while roller-blind sunscreens have been installed to protect drivers from the glare of the sun.

The coaches of the train — part of the government’s Make in India programme — were manufactured at the Integral Coach Factory (ICF) in Chennai.

The government recently said it was considering exporting the train, also known as Train 18. The 18 in the name refers to the year 2018, when the first Vande Bharat (Delhi-Varanasi) rolled out of the factory.

It’s not all rosy in there, of course. High speed on old tracks can lead to jerks and jolts, which can be uncomfortable for a traveller, and the fare at ₹1,630-3,015 is among the highest in the country for train travel of this distance.

We disembark at Ambala, and can sense the excitement at the station. Many in the crowded platform seem to have gathered there just to have their first look of the fastest train’s first run. But then, as we said, it does look impressive.

Published on October 11, 2019
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