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Travelling by trains transformed with launch of Rail Dhabas at stations
Thursday, 16 May, 2019, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Gaurav Dewan
There is always space for improvement, no matter how long you've been in the business – Oscar De La Hoya

The Indian Railways is one of the oldest industries in the country. Through constant innovation and evolution, it has continued to maintain its position as the most preferred mode of transport in India. As such, the railway system of India, is today, a lifeline of the country’s transport system. If one looks at a snapshot of the railway industry from 10 years ago, one will notice some remarkable changes present today, in terms of technology and efficiency. With 23 million travellers and 3 million tonne (MT) of freight being transported daily by the railways alone, the Indian Railways is also one of the largest railway systems in the world.

This is why, the Indian Railways is now actively launching a flurry of redevelopment projects, designed to facilitate a much-needed makeover of some of the main transport hubs of India. The Railway Ministry has planned to revamp around 50 important stations, and invested Rs 7,500 crore in the renovation. As part of this initiative, the ministry is aiming to give the railway stations an almost airport-like makeover. Equipped with a wide range of lavish and advanced facilities and amenities, soon, railways will be able to provide the utmost convenience for all travellers.

The Indian Railway Station Development Corporation (IRSDC) is a special purpose vehicle set up under the government, dedicated to these renovation projects. The aim is to offer amenities like posh lounges, modern public toilets, lifts, escalators, water vending machines, and more, like the ones at airports, at railway stations. The redevelopment programme has started taking shape at the Habibganj and Gandhinagar stations, which are being crowned as the first state-of-the-art stations in India. Other stations tapped to go through redevelopment include Anand Vihar, Bijwasan, Chandigarh, Shivaji Nagar, Surat, Baiyyappananhalli, Nagpur, Gwalior, Amritsar, Gandhinagar (Jaipur), Sabarmati, Kanpur, and Thakurli.

Free and secure Wi-Fi, which is today an essential requirement in the Internet-driven world, is now available at many stations, for all passengers. This move is an important stride, not only towards the redevelopment of the Indian Railways, but also towards a digital India. Piyush Goyal, the current Minister of Railways, has requested the Railway Board to establish Wi-Fi services in at least 2,000 stations across India.

Railway stations are also being upgraded in terms of security. There have been talks of introducing security systems at railway stations similar to the ones at airports. In fact, authorities are considering closing down terminals 20 minutes before the train arrives, so that thorough security checks can be conducted. These security measures have already been set up at the Hubli and Prayarag stations, and will soon be implemented at others too.

The food and beverage segment in the industry has also undergone a significant transformation in recent years. Today, most customers are extremely conscious of quality and health, and are willing to pay accordingly, for it. Thus, cleanliness and sanitary conditions of food and beverage stalls in railway stations, especially suburban ones, are being scrutinised carefully, to ensure adherence to health standards. In addition to that, Railways will soon also have a range of meal options and lavish food courts, akin to the ones present at major highways, such as the NH 58 Highway and the NH 4 Highway.

To this end, it has already started handing out tenders to private players to set up retail outlets for their brands, within the stations. This is sure to upgrade the travel food industry within the railways. The very way that people consume food while travelling by trains has been transformed with the launch of Rail Dhabas at stations like Vishakhapatnam, Agra Cantt, Madurai, Vijayawada, and Pune. Such tenders have brought a new wave of privatisation within railway stations that has never been seen before. Waiting areas are also being upgraded into posh lounges with food plazas and stalls, so that waiting passengers can fully utilise their free time at the railway stations.

There is no doubt that the infrastructure of Indian Railways is on a transformative path towards a glorious future. With the amount of funds being set aside for redevelopment projects and the entry of private players into the railway ecosystem, it can be said with utmost surety that in the near future, the railways will definitely be at par with airports, in terms of quality, hygiene, amenities, and convenience.

(The author is COO and business head, Travel Food Services)
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