“The blinds are automatic and tea is being served continuously,” Prem Shankar Sharma tells his family, sitting in their Bhavnagar home, on a video call. Sharma can’t stop gushing about the train, be it its vibrant interiors or its impressive leg room and hi-tech LED screens.

Home-cooked lunches being unboxed, passengers playing cards and reading, workaholics on their laptops, children running down the aisle — so how is the Tejas experience different from other Indian long-distance trains?

The country’s second privately-owned train — the Ahmedabad-Mumbai Tejas Express — was flagged off earlier this week. This writer experienced the journey on its second official run. The first train under the same brand name was launched on the Konkan route from Mumbai to Goa in 2017.

Describing its features, IRCTC had said it would have more ‘efficient’ coach-staff, fully air-conditioned state-of-the-art interiors, tech-equipped coaches and a superior catering service.

Vibrant atmosphere

The bright yellow-and-orange interiors offer a vibrant atmosphere which is balanced by the latest technology installations. The train has hydraulic doors closing seconds before it leaves each station. Each seat has a charging point, air-conditioner controls and a call bell. The blinds can be controlled by buttons next to the windows — neither the kids nor the adults can seem to keep their hands off them. The seats offer substantial leg room and lumbar support with a velvet-like fabric and neck cushioning.

Dressed in bright yellow-and-blue ‘ethnic’ uniforms with embroidered caps, the crew offer passengers packaged buttermilk at the start of the journey toward Ahmedabad. After this, Tejas has meals planned at just the right intervals, with evening snacks and tea followed by a North Indian dinner and ice-cream for dessert.

The morning return journey from Ahmedabad offers a South Indian breakfast, followed by a choice of juice or buttermilk. The lunch includes biryani with curd, followed by ice-cream.

Food ‘disappoints’

The issue for many passengers, however, remains the food quality and taste. Many say it is not much of an improvement over what’s served on other Indian trains. “I like the cleanliness and the approachable crew but the food was a disappointment. Both the breakfast and lunch had substandard taste and temperature,” says Yousuf Patel, a London-based real estate developer on a visit to India to meet relatives. “It’s been ages since I last travelled on a train but the food has seen very little change. The kids read about this train and insisted we experience it before going back. ”

“I love the automatic window blinds,” his nine-year-old grand-daughter Shahira chimes in.

No-delay promise

Two other express trains — the Duronto Express and the Shatabdi Express — run on the same route, taking 20-25 minutes more than Tejas to traverse the distance.

Tejas promises a runtime of 6 hours 20 minutes, with IRCTC (Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation) offering passengers a compensation of ₹100 each if the train is delayed by over an hour.

“The features and services are quite identical to those offered in air travel. I’m impressed,” says Soumik Bhatacharjee, a businessman from Mumbai. “However, I feel it should be more cost-efficient. I am paying ₹400 more than what I usually pay on the Shatabdi Express. A large portion of our population is dependent on train travel. I think such trains should be started on various routes, provided they can improve a little on the cost-effectiveness.”

The train offers a 1:30 staff:passenger ratio, and the crew is friendly and efficient. The crew classification is streamlined, with work being divided between coach-attendants, security personnel, sanitation staff and ticket collectors. “We all had a 15-day training period before the official run of the train and so far I’m finding the experience to be better than my expectations,” says 24-year-old Riddhi Mistry, a coach attendant. Mistry, a resident of Ahmedabad, is a graduate.

Passengers on the general chair-car coach as well as on the executive one can avail the free WiFi service that can be used to stream select movies and shows on the train’s streaming website. The executive class, however, offers an add-on of personal LED screens.

“The features of the train are good. Shatabdi is quite good, too, but I wanted to see how this one is different. My LED screen works but there’s no clear audio if I connect my headphones. It’s only the second day since its first run...I expected better,” says Manish Shah from Ahmedabad.

Towards the end of the journey, IRCTC circulates tablets, where passengers can fill in their feedback. The online form includes queries on the food quality, staff behaviour, comfort and time-efficiency. Additional complaints and suggestions can also be made in the form.

The train this writer took delivered on the time promise. Both the journeys were completed two or three minutes before schedule. “Tejas has already become a brand on the Konkan route, I travel on that frequently and it has never been late in my experience. This is my wife’s first time on Tejas and she liked it as well. I already knew this one would be as good as the Mumbai-Goa one,” says lawyer Chetan Murudkar, travelling with his wife to Ahmedabad.

Long way to go

“This is another add-on to the already existing routes. Not to discredit the improved services and private management, but I feel Indian railway services have a long way to go,” observes Urmi Shah, a professor from Vadodara. “Many trains run in bad conditions and there are frequent delays. The accumulated backlog of maintenance has to be fixed. However, I feel this is a promising new service and we should be on our way to making train travel a better experience for passengers.”

The journey ends with souvenirs for the passengers — a Tejas keychain and a warm goodbye from the staff.

(The writer is an intern with BusinessLine Mumbai)