Soon, better food and facilities on trains

Very soon you can expect better food and facilities in trains as Northern Railways is going to implement a new catering policy.

Northern Railway General Manager Vijay Kumar Gupta announced on Saturday that the division will also contract a new caterer.

Releasing the new timetable, Gupta said: “The food quality on trains operating under the Northern Railways will be much better from now. It is a continuous process. We provide food to around a lakh people daily.” The new schedule will come into effective from July 1.

Gupta also announced 42 new trains, including 33 express trains and nine passenger trains. Frequency of nine trains have been increased while the routes of 15 express and two passenger trains have been extended. To curb the menace of touts in railway bookings, he said the Northern Railways has constituted a team of officers and inspectors of the commercial department and Railway Protection Force to check all important outlets. Additional general manager BP Gupta, chief operating manager Mohd Jamshed, chief commercial manager Vijaya Sinha, divisional railway manager AK Sachan and other senior officers were present on the occasion.

Railways Take Measures to Ensure Supply of Hygienic Food in Trains

It is a continuous endeavour by the Indian Railways to provide good quality hygienic food to Railway passengers. Accordingly, a New Catering Policy, 2010 has been introduced on 21.7.2010 with a mandate for effective quality assurance programme, wherein ISO-22000 (International Organization for Standardization) standards are to be progressively implemented for major contracts/units. Supervision and monitoring have been strengthened through a mechanism put in place by deploying railway personnel, who check quality and hygiene and take corrective action in a time-bound manner. Catering Monitoring Cells have been set up at Zonal and Divisional level for daily monitoring of the catering activities. Further, on the same pattern, a centralized Catering Complaint Monitoring Cell has been set up in Board’s office having a toll free number 1800-111-321 for prompt redressal of the passenger grievances related to the catering activates for real time assistance to travelling public.

A total number of 405 food samples were picked up for sample tests from Rajdhani Express trains, including Guwahati and Dibrugarh bound trains in the year 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13. Appropriate action under prevention of Food Adulteration Acct/food Safety and Standard Act have been initiated for any food sample found unfit. Besides this departmental action like imposition of fine, warning etc. have also been undertaken.

All the passenger amenity items fitted in the coaches of Indian Railways, including those of Rajdhani Express trains, are monitored during the various maintenance schedules and the deficiencies found, if any, are rectified. On Board Housekeeping Services (OBHS) for cleaning attention on run has also been prescribed for all the Rajdhani Express trains. Complaints/references received from the passengers regarding passenger amenities in the coaches are acted upon appropriately by Indian Railways.

This information was given by the Minister of State for Railways Shri Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury in written reply to a question in Rajya Sabha today.

New portal for rail tickets to hit IRCTC

Come October and Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) will receive another setback, when the alternative portal being developed by the Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS) according to the ministry’s directions goes on air.

The new portal will compete with IRCTC for offering sale of online tickets. The launch would endanger around 14 per cent of the revenues IRCTC makes from the service charge levied on the sale of online tickets.

IRCTC is already set to lose 80 per cent of its overall revenues, as the management of catering services on trains and at stations is being taken back by the railways.

IRCTC was created in 1997, as part of the Railways’ efforts to corporatise its non-core business.

It saw the revenue and profit from the catering business not being accounted for on railway books. Any government department’s earning from its undertaking is only through dividend payment.

IRCTC made Rs 688 crore (Rs 6.88 billion) in revenues in 2009-10. Of this, Rs 96 crore (Rs 960 million) came from online ticketing services. This was to decline by at least Rs 30 crore (Rs 300 million) this year, with railway minister Mamata Banerjee announcing reduced service charges in her budget presented in February.

The maximum service charge was reduced to Rs 10 from the earlier Rs 15 for the sleeper class and to Rs 20 from Rs 40 for the air-conditioned class.

The overall revenue IRCTC reported from the sale of online tickets was Rs 6,138 crore (Rs 61.38 million) in 2009-10, a rise of over 55 per cent from the Rs 3,967 crore (Rs 39.67 billion) in 2008-09. IRCTC is the biggest e-commerce portal in the country. At present, every third ticket reserved on the railways is sold on it.

Strategy needed

A former member of the Railway Board, who did not wish to be identified, said, “The online ticketing services provided by IRCTC have redefined the travelling experience of passengers on the railway network. If the portal continues to offer user-friendly services, it would continue to draw in numbers. But there are chances that the share of IRCTC in online ticketing sales would fall when the new portal is launched.”

A senior official at the ministry informed, “We have asked CRIS to develop a portal for providing online ticketing services. We believe the online platforms operated by IRCTC and CRIS will offer competition to each other and help in generating business.”

Some experts feel IRCTC’s revenue would be affected only in the short run. “The potential from tourism in the country is huge. IRCTC can operate tourist trains. Revenues may be affected over the short term but eventually the corporation would be able to re-establish itself by tapping new streams of businesses,” said R Sivadasan, a former financial commissioner at the Railway Board.

Many industry experts, however, feel at a time when railways finances are not in good shape and safety-related lapses have come up, the ministry could have desisted from taking over the management of non-core activities.

A former chairman of the Railway Board said, “The Railways should concentrate on core businesses operations and safety. The ministry has decided to takeover the management of catering services, a sensitive issue because it is directly related to satisfaction of customers on board trains, but administration would pose a major challenge.”