Aboard Train 18: A promise that could not be kept

Vande Bharat Express

Chamraula
(UP), Feb 16. It was an offer one couldn’t resist — a journey back home in
Delhi, quicker by at least six hours, by the high-speed Train 18, rechristened
Vande Bharat Express. But as it turned out, the much-hyped train, suffered a
breakdown early Saturday morning and could not deliver on the promise of
reaching home early.

By V S
Chandrasekar

The train,
empty on its return from the inaugural run from Varanasi on Friday, was
ultimately late by more than six hours due to a mechanical fault and reached
the destination –New Delhi — by 1 pm on Saturday.

Dozens of
journalists, Railway brass, several other officials, some political leaders and
a few others were on the train in its inaugural run from New Delhi accompanying
Railway Minister Piyush Goyal on Friday morning. The train was flagged off by
Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a subdued ceremony, clouded by the dastardly
terror attack near Srinagar on Friday that killed over 45 CRPF personnnel.

With
functions en route in Kanpur, Allahabad and finally a valedictory event in
Varanasi, Vande Bharat had already overshot the scheduled travel time of eight
hours to cover a distance of 775 km, which was understandable because of the
inaugural run.

All the
media persons, including from several regional television channels and railway
officials and others were slated to come by a special train on the return
journey, which would start around midnight to reach Delhi around midday.

However, a
last-minute bait was thrown for those wanting to return to Delhi non-stop by
the Vande Bharat Express which was travelling empty with a
promise that it would touch the capital a little after 6 a.m.

Many did not
fall for it because of the thought of a comfortable sleeping berth in the
special train and chose to stick to their original schedule.

But there
was a score of print and television journalists with news cameramen who jumped
at the option to return by the high-speed Train 18. It left Varanasi a little
after 10.15 pm. Having enjoyed the speed in the morning, the few of the
privileged passengers began their return journey by Vande Bharat Express.

The majority
of the journalists, who travelled in the Chair Car coach in the morning, chose
to take the Executive Class for a feel of the luxury there–plump, spacious and
well upholstered seats that could take an 180-degree turn keeping with the
direction of the travel.

A few who
travelled by the Executive Class in the morning chose the Chair Car coach so
that they can lie down

across the
three seats after lifting the arm rest.

However, the
top brass of the Railway Board chose to return by the Howrah-New Delhi Rajdhani
to reach Delhi.

Everything
was smooth but for the loud midnight announcements being made on the empty train
about the stops in Allahabad and Kanpur for the railway staff to deboard. The
sleep was often disturbed as the announcements were a little too frequent,
considering the number of passengers to get down mid-day.

But as the
passengers were hoping for an early arrival in Delhi, they could sense trouble
because the fastest train on Indian tracks was running slow occasionally. And
then came the complete halt at Chamraula, 194 km from New Delhi and still 2
hours 50 minutes to travel as the display on the LED panel for onboard
entertainment showed. It was already 5.30 a.m.

After a
couple of hours and a snooze, the journalists realised they were still at the
same spot.
Then came
the offer from officials to switch to a Delhi-bound train. Came in the
Vikramshila Express and those wanting to go — there were many — were shifted
to the Delhi-bound train in a mid-track transfer. The train from Bhagalpur in
Bihar was stopped for a “technical halt”.

While Vikramshila
Express
reached Anand Vihar Terminal on the outskirts of Delhi around 10.45
a.m., Vande Bharat reached capital at 1 p.m. The other special train carrying
the majority of officials and journalists arrived around 3 p.m.

Officially,
Railway spokespersons have said the trouble for the train came from a cattle
being run over and a “communication and electrical failure”.

Even inside the coaches, mobile phone signals were weak often curtailing the talk while wi-fi was not available because, as one official put it, due to “electro magnetic interference“. Officials hope to set it right before Sunday.

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