India is looking to add a touch of luxury to its railway network, inspired by Switzerland’s glass-topped trains. The move is a part of the government’s attempt to revamp the massive transport system.
Starting December, Indian Railways plans to test-run three luxury coaches with glass ceilings, one on a route in the Kashmir valley and the other two in the Araku Valley in south India. In a bid to attract wealthy tourists, the coaches will have chairs that can rotate, extra leg space, and high-tech “infotainment systems,” according to A K Manocha, chairman and managing director of the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC).
“There are some trains with glass ceiling(s) in foreign countries like Switzerland, which enjoy the patronage of tourists. We believe such coaches would also give a fillip to rail tourism in India,” Manocha said.
India has one of the world’s largest railway networks with trains ferrying around 23 million people every day. However, years of neglect and under-investment have left it in a sorry state. While luxury trains such as the Maharajas’ Express or the Palace on Wheels already serve the rich tourists (charging thousands of dollars for a few nights on board), the services for regular Indian commuters and travellers have lagged.
At Rs4 crore per glass-topped coach, the latest attempt is an expensive one for India’s railways. But it is in line with the Narendra Modi-led government’s plans to upgrade and modernise the railway network in India. It plans to spend around $17 billion (Rs1.21 lakh crore) this fiscal towards this revamp. Since 2015, the railways’ initiatives have ranged from trying to cut power bills by testing solar panels on trains to tying up with Domino’s for pizza delivery at certain stations. This year, Indian Railways announced plans to offer wifi hotspots at 100 stations and improve its services via smartphone apps.
But these efforts seem largely cosmetic. The system is still mired in inefficiencies and delays that often make train travel an uncomfortable experience for ordinary Indians. And a handful of glass-topped coaches will hardly change that.
Feature image by Tony Hisgett on Wikimedia, licensed under CC-BY-2.0.