Rail tests out male stewards before hostesses

Air hostesses, be prepared for competition from Earth.

If everything works out according to plan, train passengers could soon be pampered with some “comforts of an aeroplane” — including hot meals served on trolleys pushed by rail hostesses.

“We are trying to match up to the air-travel experience by improving the quality of services,” a railway official said.

The plan to introduce hostesses on trains took shape after the Indian Railways, the lead sponsor of the Commonwealth Games, experimented with food trolleys when it played host to athletes and officials from participating nations on trips to the Taj Mahal.

The two-hour journey on the Taj Commonwealth Express, from Delhi’s Safdarjung station to Agra, saw male attendants in black sherwanis and red turbans serve a mix of Indian and western fare.

Sources said the trolley service had got the thumbs-up from the athletes and the officials and the railways now planned to introduce it with hostess on select Rajdhani and Shatabdi trains.

“The safety and security of the rail hostess will be uppermost when they are introduced in a phased manner on short-distance luxury trains and select prestigious trains. They will be deployed on those trains where the trolley service will be introduced,” said an official. “The idea is to offer all the comforts of an aeroplane and make the train journey a memorable experience.”

Kenyan John Eriku Kelai, who won the men’s marathon gold, said the hospitality on the Taj Commonwealth Express was “superb”. “The food on board the train was good, clean and neatly packed.”

Malaysian athletes Nor Iryani and Azim Azami said it was a “wonderful trip” that added “spice” to the Games.

Jamaican athlete Jomovcy Arummy Victoria was “mesmerised” by the Taj and thanked the railways for arranging the trip. “I have seen ancient buildings in Greece and the Great Wall of China. At the Commonwealth Games 2010, my dream to see the Taj came true.”

The railways ran the express — a brand new train vinyl-wrapped in Commonwealth colours on the outside — under an arrangement with the Games organising committee. Beginning October 6, the train made eight trips and carried 2,928 athletes and officials from the participating nations. With a seating arrangement of three chairs on one side and two on the other, the food trolley had enough space to move.

“We have received proposals to continue the train as a commercial venture, especially for foreign tourists. We are thinking of taking up the proposal with the railway board,” said Northern Railway chief commercial manager P.K. Goel.


Railways experiment with cost-effective fly ash sleepers

The Research, Design and Standards Organisation (RDSO) of Indian Railways is experimenting with cost-effective sleepers for railway tracks. At present, railway sleepers are made with cement concrete. Now, the RDSO, in collaboration with IIT-Kanpur and NTPC, is planning to use fly ash in the sleepers, which will not only make them more durable, but also cost effective. An initiative of NTPC, the project was undertaken by RDSO in January 2010, and the sleepers will undergo lab tests in the next three months before going for field trials.

Fly ash is a residue of coal-based thermal power plants and is generally considered a waste. However, it is known to acquire cement-like properties when mixed with lime and water because of its pozzolanic characteristics, said V K Mathur, Head of Ash Utilisation Division, NTPC.

India produces 150 million ton fly ash every year and by 2012, the production is expected to reach 200 million tons. Mixing 25 to 30 per cent of fly ash gives 20 per cent more durability to the cement structure as the fly ash particles, being smaller in size than the cement particles, settle in the smallest of voids in a cement structure and make the structure more condense, Mathur told The Indian Express.

He was in town to participate in the two-day UIC Asia Workshop on Optimisation of Pre-stressed Concrete Sleepers organised by the International Union of Railways in collaboration with RDSO. This is the first time that railways organised an international workshop in Lucknow and more than 80 delegates from across the country, as well as from Germany and Australia, participated in it.

“We produce around one crore sleepers every year and if the experiment is successful, it will reduce the cost of production of each sleeper by approximately Rs 30, which will mean an overall cost saving of Rs 30 to 35 crore per annum for India Railways,” said A K Singhal, Executive Director (Track), RDSO.

“In the long run, this will also gain carbon credits for RDSO as it will reduce 0.15 million tons emission of carbon dioxide per annum,” Mathur said. Fly ash is also expected to reduce lime requirements in the process by 0.15 million tons, he added.

“The lab tests on sleepers made of 30 per cent fly ash is being done in IIT-Kanpur and if all goes well, we will be ready for its field trial in the next three months. The first trials on main track will be done in the vicinity of RDSO, Lucknow,” said Singhal.


Rlys to carry out survey for Bullet Trains

PATNA: A high level team of the Railway Board officials held a meeting with Bihar chief secretary R J M Pillai recently in connection with the survey work of the proposed running of bullet train between Patna and Delhi. The railways intend to carry out survey work soon so that its feasibility could be assessed.

According to sources, the total cost of the survey work on Patna-Delhi route is likely to cost about Rs 11 crore. This route falls under Bihar, UP and Delhi. Accordingly, the cost of survey is to be shared with the railways by these states. Of about 1,000 km stretching from Patna to Delhi, about 200 km falls in Bihar. The Bihar government is to share half of the cost to be incurred on the survey work of about 200 km, sources said.

A board official described the talk with the chief secretary as positive and said the state government has expressed its willingness to co-operate with the railways on the project. This ambitious project would surely herald development in the state and benefit the people, he said.

According to sources, the railways are conducting survey on the Pune-Mumbai-Ahmedabad, Delhi-Chandigarh, Patna-Delhi, Bangalore-Chennai and Chennai-Hyderabad routes. The survey work and feasibility report are being prepared by a reputed company of France. If everything goes well, the railways would complete the survey work in a couple of months, the board official said.

Bullet trains are specially designed to run at the maximum speed of 250 km to 300 kmph per hour in foreign countries. In fact, separate tracks are required to run bullet trains which are substitute to air traffic in foreign countries. Besides, no goods trains would run on the special tracks of bullet trains for safety reasons, a technical expert said, adding the railways have been running the fastest Shatabdi Express on Delhi-Gwalior route at 140 kmph.

The railways will require at least Rs 10,000 crore to build up the infrastructure to run bullet trains. Though maintenance of bullet trains, particularly locomotives, is very costly, the Indian Railways are capable of maintaining bullet train coaches with the help of advanced technology, sources said.

A technical expert of the railways told TOI that the Indian Railways have the largest network in the country and introduction of bullet trains would fill railway coffers as elite class passengers would prefer journey by such high speed trains paying fare at premium cost, he said.