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Monday, August 9, 1999 Published at 11:27 GMT 12:27 UK

World: South Asia

Indian Railways - Your Experiences

BBC News Online users tell their experiences of travelling on India's rail network and how safe they believe it to be.

I once worked as a Doctor in Indian Railways. I have very fond memories of those days. I remember receiving calls to attend sick passengers on trains. Some calls were for chest pain, some for injuries sustained. I enjoyed working in Railways. It always gave me a great satisfaction to help passengers when they least expected. Railway workers are very responsible and hard working. The Railways is a huge organization providing wonderful services to travellers in spite of being handicapped due to old technologies. They must be commended. Railways lags behind in technology because politicians spend funds in opening new routes to their constituencies even though these routes may be economically non viable. Please spend money on upgrading and provide glimpses of real India to the world with pride and safety. Undoubtedly travelling by Great Indian Railways is a life time experience.
Avanish Mehta, USA

It was great reading the many comments from people who have experienced the Indian Railways. I couldn't help but notice that the messages could be roughly categorized into 2: 1. Travelling experience 2. Issues relating to the administration. Almost all of the positive comments relate to the travelling experience while the negative comments are targeted toward the Railway administration and politicians.
Roy Karunakaran, Indian living in the USA

Indian railways is one of the best railway system if one can compares cost with the efficiency,safety and the comfort. Specially Mumbai local rail net work is simply excellent.
Murali Kramadhari, Australia

I have never travelled on the Indian Railways. After reading through all of these I'll make sure I squeeze in a train trip next time my family and I visit my old country Bangladesh. What would be a good trip about eight hours from New Delhi?
Shahed Zaman, USA

Travelling by train in India is not only safe and enjoyable but unparalleled. Accidents do occur, even in the west and on airlines also, but you cannot deny the fact that Indian railways is a huge network travelling millions of people to their destinations. I always enjoyed travelling second class in Indian trains and I can say that it is much better than travelling first class in world best airlines. Well this is the real India. But there is lot that Indian govt can do improve the conditions, first punctuality and then zero defect. Indian Railways is world's best.
Amit Sharma, India

I love the Indian Railways with all its shortcomings and faults. Personally I only have pleasant memories whether it was the numerous trips on the 'Cochin Express' from Kochi to Madras (Chennai) or to the many 3 days trips to Agra or Delhi from Kerala or the short trips from Agra to New Delhi on the Taj Express or the trip from Coimbatore to Ooty on the 'Toy Train' where the steam engine push the little train up the scenic hills to the beautiful resort of Ooty and Konnoor. They were all simply fantastic, memorable and most enjoyable. Oh, the food, the 'ThaYir sadam' (rice/curd concoction with a bit of lime pickle) on the way, Tamil Nadu is the best. The 'Chai' (tea) served in disposable clay pots while one hits the UP and MP stations, out of this world. I can't wait to get back on them and I will starting next year. So if you see somone with a Nikon from Kerala in the train do strike up conversation and that includes the Westerner who is travelling the breadth and length of India searching for 'Nirvana', hey I speak 'American' you know. 'See-ya' on the train, the best in the world, faults and shortcomings notwithstanding.
Mohan Marette, USA & Kerala,India

It's almost romantic to travel by Indian Railways. I have travelled on most major railroads in the world including the Bullet Train in Japan and I still love the clickety clack of the trains in India. Improved security and sanitation would make this a truly surreal experience.
Fareed Jawad, USA

There is no doubt that the India Railway is old and highly stressed. Accidents happen and that is definitely unforgivable. These facts are important and are highlighted during incidents such as Ghaisal but I don't think that is all to be said about the Indian Railways. I spent 23 years up in India and have in my 23 years used the railways regularly and have never been in an accident however minor. It is easy to criticise but hard to compliment.
Ujeeb.J, USA

I have very fond memories of Indian railways, I met my husband in the train we both were travelling in second class on student's concession. I can never forget that day, when he asked me, if he could share my lower berth to sit thus starting string of conversation and exchange of apples, chocolates and bottled water because water was not available in the station.
Apart from it, some of my fondest memories of childhood are that of trains passing through tunnels, the morning "cappi" "cappi" in south of India turning to "chai" "chai" in northern India. At that time of hour that is the best cappucino in the world, stopover at Nagpur for the famous Nagpur oranges. I have taken the same Avadh Assam train and I must say that as the train entered Assam I completely fell in love with Assam's lush green paddy fields, forest, Bhramaputra river.
I take the American trains too but I have never seen someone say hi, or smile, though trains are much more sophisticated and comfortable. The Indian railways should improve their safety standards, Indian railways gives complete picture of India, warmth of people seen on and out of train can never be compared.
Anita V Nalliah, USA

I have travelled extensively by trains in India, Europe (Eurorail), Japan, South Korea, Singapore and USA. But every where you can find some difference i.e. in India you will find very-very friendly/helping co-passengers where as it is not so in other countries. Every where I found excellent technology has been put up in railways except India. Where as this can be done by strong will power of Politicians and Citizen of India.
Such accidents are reminders 'How inefficiently/irresponsibly/carelessly we work, even though our system is right'. When I came to know about such Irresponsible workforce, it reminds me only one phrase "EVERY ACCIDENT SOUNDS MILD, WHEN IT IS NOT THEIR CHILD"
Ssuheel Kumar, India

The Indian Railways shine in parts. The Southern Railway,Western Railway are simply the best among all. I have been travelling in the system for 30 years. Some of the trains are well maintained: Rajdhani, Tamilnadu, GT etc. But the system in northeast is pathetic. Particularly in Bihar. Getting tickets is the biggest problem due to overcrowding in railways. You can not take train journey all in a day's notice.
Timings are not maintained except for few trains. But the facilities at Stations are good. Once a Railway doctor came to attend me at Nagpur Junction when I was down with Heat stroke. It was an unimaginable good system. It is really unfortunate accidents happen like this. Generally the railways are managed by competent persons but still inefficiencies are seen, particularly punctuality. On the whole, the system is the best in Asia.
M. Iftikhar Ahmed, Pakistan

I spent two months travelling around India mainly by Train. The first thing that I have to say is that not once did I feel threatened or unsafe. Even on a two-day train journey from Madras to Calcutta sitting on my own, everyone was really friendly. There is the religious aspect of reincarnation, which seems to make people more carefree about their personal well being compared to the West. Combine this with the East attitude to time, where days are treated like Western Hours and you have the Great India Railway system.
Alex, England

As an Indian Railway enthusiast, my love for the IR is equal to worship. I feel very sad that these clearly avoidable accidents bring such a bad name to the IR. The IR works well because of the many dedicated, duty bound officers and workers at all levels. Pune/ India
Apurva Bahadur, India

My Indian Railway experience was wonderful. I travelled east to Varanasi through Bihar, and south to the beautiful city of Mysore in Karanataka State. I did feel as if I took a chance with my life on a antiquated railway system, but you can't beat the ride and the price.
Dorji Narongsha, Canada

Indian Railways network could easily become 8th wonder of the world given the massivity and kind of people that run the system, one wonders how it runs, but it runs and runs damn good, this is one of the few public sector companies which are doing a good job. Given the infrastructure and the quality of the people that manage it I really feel that they are doing a great job. My heartfelt condolences to the families that lost their loved ones,
Ashwani, UAE

Travel by Indian Railways is so enchanting, you have to experience it to believe it. I used to travel frequently from Trivandrom to Mangalore by train. The train used to leave the TVM Station at 5.30 in the evening and travel all night to reach Mangalore promptly - and I mean promptly - at 9.30 in the morning. The setting sun painted a beautiful picture with the lush green paddyfields and sparkling waters of the Astamudi lake in the foreground, forming one of the most picturesque sights you can see while travelling anywhere in the world on the rail.
We used to crowd the doorway of the train to get the best view. The ever present vendors, the small friendships that begin with a friendly nod and end the next day morning when you feel you've known this person for your whole life, opening the tiffin your mom prepared with love for the night, that after food smoke standing near the door_then going to sleep with the sound of that inefficient ceiling fan next to your ear, all were so enchanting, so unforgettable.
Anil Rajendran, India (presently in USA)

I would like to give some suggestions to the people who have written the above columns, try to improve the system rather than worshipping them to avoid even the accidents of 1/1000th fraction. The toll is too much for anyone to bear. the bottom line what so ever is that the system has to be improved. Try you best to give comment on how they can staff better competent personnel and how they can improve.
A, India

Rail travel in India is a fabulous and inexpensive way to get around, and offers beautiful scenery, great company, and surprisingly enough (for anyone who has ever ridden Amtrak), great food. I have to say, however, that at night, when a train was running late, I several times noticed that the rate of speed was high, and in at least one case, quite excessive and seemingly very dangerous. The train rocked back and forth violently and I could hear the wheels barely holding the track on curves.
The overcrowded and perpetually-behind schedule-conditions of the train notwithstanding, there has also been, for the last couple of decades anyway, a tendency to make the rail system the target of any grudge one has against the government. Don't feel satisfied with your village's compensation package for the last flash flood (or whatever)? Throw a cement block on the tracks.
That having been said, and even recognising that it can be quite dangerous if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, if you are going to travel around India, for God's sake, take the train. It's nowhere near as dangerous as a public bus... I was once on one which became airborne, but that's another story.
Jamie Blackman, USA

There is no doubt that journey on Indian Railways is something else. It cannot be matched by any other in the world. I know because I have travelled the four continents. Feelings expressed by other readers match my sentiment.
In a survey some months ago the Indian Railways beat the trains in UK in many respects. With their so-called outdated system, the Indian Railways were able to locate the whereabouts of a train anywhere in India faster than their counterparts in UK.
Having said that corruption lurks under the surface and rears its head without remorse, regret or shame. Profits are nullified because the money finds itself in the pockets of unscrupulous officials. Corruption reigns from top to bottom.
Harbans Bhogal, USA

I have one lasting memory of a train journey in India: my friend and I were in in a carriage with a Japanese traveller, a newly married Indian couple, two Indian men and a Thai Buddhist monk. We had huge language barriers, but we got over them with sign language and big smiles, in fact we ended up singing the night away and having a really good laugh! It was pretty surreal, but the atmosphere was excellent. You'd never get that in England.

I have nothing good to say about Indian Railways. The technology and security mechanism is a shambles; and nobody gives a damn! Politicians are busy grinding their self interests by adding more and more rails to already cumbersome systems because it looks good on their "resume". But how about safety? How about innocent lives which are lost through no fault of their own. When accidents occur, these politicians offer to resign because they take 'moral responsibility' for the accident. Or rather, it further improves their image and shows that they care. What a charade! More people are fooled; more vote banks are secured. What a hog wash! When will Indian people learn?
Sanjeev Sharma, Canada

I don't think there is any experience like travelling in a train in cover various and pretty landscapes...the hills of Maharashtra, the deserts of Rajasthan, the plains of the Ganges....I've travelled in the Underground in London, the MRT in Singapore Amtrax in USA. All pale in comparison...its almost as if everyone there is in a hurry. Most people are frowning and so much into themselves. It pales in comparison to the friendly atmosphere in the Indian railways, all people sit and chatter. The people leaning out of the doors, the hawkers on each station ringing the glass bottles with a metal opener. The satisfaction with not-so-good service and the bribe-friendly TC, all have oodles of Indian rural is indeed an experience that should not be missed at any cost.
Jvalant Nalin Sampat, Rochester, NY, USA

I have had the privilege of travelling in all the classes of Indian railways. From the luxury of 1st class and 2nd AC to the discomfort of sleeping in the luggage racks in 3rd class. To me there is always something charming and rustic about the railway rides in India. From the friendly people to the variety of food and snacks. The railways is the backbone of the subcontinent, and without it India would grind to a halt. Although punctuality is rare, and corruption endemic I think the Indian Railroads have a lot to be proud of.
Zeus Avari, U.S.A.

I once got stuck on a third-class night train, without a reservation, and I'm sure it was the least comfortable 12 hours of my life. Imagine the most crowded Underground train you've ever been in, and now imagine it with a good 30 or 40% more people still. Now picture it's 38 degrees and you're rolling slowly down the Ganges plains. I crouched in a foetal position for 11 hours, literally packed in between a woman with babies on each arms, and various stray men and families.
Given how easy it would be to rob a clueless westerner with a backpack, *all* of the lower caste Indians I met were remarkably friendly and hospitable, explaining in broken English why we were delayed, offering tea, etc. I don't think Westerners really understand the scale of poverty in the subcontinent, or the pivotal role that this nearly-free service plays in binding India together.
F Toro, England

Travelling by train is possibly one of the best ways of experiencing India. I have travelled extensively by trains in India and the charm still exists. Even though the trains are dirty and the stations not well maintained but still I would choose going by train any day in India, compared to any other form of transport.
Sai Srinivas, India..(living in Singapore)

All very well, the romantic part. It may sound cynical, but standing in a queue for hours together waiting to get a ticket to travel by Indian Railways, is also quite an experience. Simply put, services are abominable and no one wants to improve it. In fact most railway officials think it is some sort of free public service that people should be grateful for. Indian Railways tries its best to distract you from the rich experiences that train travel in general offers you in India. As an organisation, it is bloated, inept and inert.
The system survives because of inertia, but the recent disaster must serve to highlight the crying need for improved service for India's millions. Take a simple example- To get a reserved ticket on any long distance train, you have to, as in absolutely have to know your plans two months in advance. Not that tickets get more expensive if you want it two weeks before the journey. They simply are not available.
Suryanarayanan, USA

My experiences with Indian railways has always given me a chance to learn more about the great cultural diversity of India. I have been travelling by trains for nearly 25 years now in all the classes. But my best journeys have always been in the Sleeper/2nd Class. It is here that I got to see people from the length and breadth of this country. For a person who likes eating different varieties of food, travelling by Indian railways is best way to taste the varied food preparations. Who can forget the Chiki (peanut crunch) of Lonavala, Santra (oranges) of Nagpur, Petha (sweet) of Agra.
For people who are not aware, in addition to having the largest rail network and the largest public sector employer (more than a million employees), Indian railways operates one of the most complex ticket reservation system in the world. Given the huge traffic, sometimes some accidents do happen. By saying this i don't justify the recent spate of major accidents, but on the whole the railways has been doing a pretty decent job. A lit bit of cleaning up and tightening of screws should get the things into good shape.
Ravi, USA

I once travelled in India through rail and unfortunately I found it very bad.
Syed Shafiq, Pakistan

I have always enjoyed train travel in India. When you consider the statistics involved, you realise the Indian Railways are indeed efficient. It just needs modernisation and that will happen when Indian politicians clean up their act.
Viswanath Gurram, Canada

I travelled through India mainly on 2nd class sleeper tickets. I thought the whole experience summed up India in many ways. From the difficulty in obtaining a ticket to the ever present trader offering anything from flip-flops to peeled cucumber through the window of the carriage, even in the remotest unscheduled stops. I believe the Railways are the biggest employer in India and much of the system depends on very old computer systems. I hope that these will function correctly after the Millennium. I hope also that India recognises how important these rail arteries are and works hard to improve safety and the service.
Jay Bostock, Scotland

My memories of train travel in India have probably been romanticised with the passage of time, however the time I spent on the trains there rank as some of the most memorable and enjoyable experiences of my travels. I loved the "chaiiiii, nescoffee" calls in the morning, the thali plates for only 11 rupees and the incessant activity. Given the size of the Indian railway system it is amazing that so many trains do in fact run on time. Certainly I experienced frustrating delays and inexplicable cancellations, but in the end this only added to my appreciation of the train journey itself. My heart goes out to the people who have lost their lives or their loved ones in this terrible accident.
Vanessa Cardy, USA

I can run faster than those banger trains!!!
Pati Singh, India

I have travelled all my life on trains in India. Within India I have travelled very little by Air. Travelling in a second class coach is like travelling on a picnic. You have no privacy, but you have all the fun. Indians develop friendships very fast and I admit I made a lot of friends on these jaunts. Indian railways has the most exhaustive system of trains to every nook and corner of India at a very inexpensive price.
While the number of trains have been on the rise, there has been no increase in manning personnel. In spite of these constraints if trains are still running in India, it a marvel. If accidents can happen in an advanced country like USA with a sparse railway system, accidents will happen in India. If you consider the fraction of accidents that happen for the kilometres traversed, I suppose Indian Railways do a damn good job with so many constraints.
Ravi Teja S., USA

From the age of four to the age of 15 I travelled to school on the Indian Railways system. It was a 2 day trek from Pune to Coimbatore undertaken four times a year, and provided some of the best memories of my life.
Staring out through the barred windows, blinking grit and soot out of your eyes and watching the world go about its business. The ineffectual overhead fans, the relief of fresh chai at the stations, the interminable stops in the middle of nowhere for no apparent reason... There's nothing like a trip on an Indian train to really see the country.
News of the crash this week leaves me feeling very sad. I think of the families waiting for news, and the families mourning those they love. When the numbers of dead are this big, it is easy to forget that every one of the victims is an individual with a reason for taking the train,
Liz Main, UK

Having travelled a lot on the Indian and British rail system I think that the Indian rail is as good as the British. Well done Indian rail, carry on with the good work.
Girish Patel, UK

Indian Railways provide the best value for money entertainment of any travel experience available in the world. They do deliver you to some of the most amazing places as well, for ridiculously cheap fares at that. Having spent 6 months travelling the length and breadth of India when I was 17, I can honestly say that the sheer freedom that the vast Indian Railway network provides far outweighs the potential (and considerable!) risks which exist. One thing is for sure, it certainly beats travelling on the Underground (especially this summer).
Rob Fowkes, UK

I have been reading the letters sent by your readers about the Indian Railways and the memories came flooding back... I grew up in Bombay, where my father worked; my parents' hometown is in Calcutta, and we made the trip from Bombay to Calcutta every year. Some of my fondest memories of childhood are linked to making the train journey from Bombay to Calcutta and back - the continuously changing sights and sounds, the ever present vendors of "garma garam chai", "thanda cold drinks" etc. And compartment members sharing their meals and becoming friends for the space of a 36 hour journey.... Train accidents are horrible and inefficiency of the staff involved should not be condoned, but I know that I will continue to travel by train in India, if only to relive my childhood memories.
Anuradha Leon, Belgium

Imagine running more then 9,000 trains per day! Still most of the trains reach their destination in time. I was a frequent traveller in my college days and it was memorable experience of meeting new people from all over the country.
Pradeep Solanki, Switzerland

I have travelled in Indian Railways quite extensively and have always enjoyed these journeys. Whether it was a second class compartment or an air-conditioned coach, the journey has always been both enjoying and full of experience of India's diversity and love of life. Of late, due to vote gathering policies of many politicians, the number of trains travelling has dramatically increased. It is said that a train leaves New Delhi Railway station every 20 minutes. With such a high frequency of trains running, things like traffic signalling and railtrack maintenance should not be ignored. But due to increasing callousness of railway staff, this has become a norm and can be seen at every station. Steps should be taken to improve the management of railway staff and they should be made aware of their responsibilities and importance of their duty because so many lives depend on them. This becomes more important when many of the recent accidents have been pointed to human error.
Himanshu, UK

There is no denying the fact that Indian Railways is greatly stressed. However the statistics have to be taken with a pinch of salt. The reason is that many close calls are underplayed or never reported. Once I was travelling from Pune to Bombay, when the engine and the first coach derailed on the hills. Had the locomotive travelled a few meters more the entire train would probably have ended up in a valley more than fifty feet deep. There were no newspaper reports as no one was hurt. On another occasion an unbelievable incident occurred on the same line. A train hurtled downhill with no one at the controls. The driver had apparently got off when the train rolled forward on its own. It attained a speed of around 160 km/hr against a normal speed of 40 km/hr on this line. The momentum was so great that the train travelled for 6 km after it reached level ground before coming to a halt. Again no one was injured, and made no difference on the statistics.
Manoj, U.A.E

I love train-travel in India! Where else would you get the incessant "chai, garam chai" calls of the tea- wallah as you look out of grimy windows of the second class compartment, totally amazed that it is 2 am and yet the smoky, smoggy train station buzzes with human activity. For the romantics among you out there, a night journey through India's heartlands on its rail network is a must! You've gotta try it! And while you're at it, don't forget to try the chai!!
Chayan Chakrabarty, Canada

My first experience on the Indian railway was first in a crowded compartment- where if someone took the seat you paid for you were outta luck. I was young and didn't enjoy that part of it too much, but the other parts - seeing the countryside change as we went across the country was awesome to say the least. The food available at the local stations was also great. The second time that I went on it, my family and I had our own compartment and it was a great experience. The food we got was great,and at night the noise of the train going over the tracks was soothing (takes away the fear of an accident). The only bad experience was when the police harassed a man for a bribe and he just got off the train instead.
Nelson, USA

I recently travelled from Delhi to Goa by train using the tracks of the newly built Konkan Railway This project is truly one of the engineering marvels of the modern world. The engineers have actually taken a track through the hills without a single stretch of flat land. Its just tunnels followed by bridges ;at one point in the journey we were either in tunnels or on bridges CONTINUOUSLY FOR APPROX 20 KILOMETRES However after the recent mishap what has struck me is what would happen if ever an accident were to occur in such a location with no habitation including villages for at least 50 km and no way of approaching the site except by train, helicopter or teleportation.
Prabuddha Ghosh, India

I love the Indian Railways; not because they're comfortable or even timely, but because they're one of the few things in India that actually WORK. If you have money and you get in line in time, you can buy a ticket. It doesn't matter who you know or who you don't know. If you get on board, you can be sure you will reach your destination. You may not be comfy, but comfort isn't something you worry about if you're Indian. As for safety, the statistics are clear - accident rates have gone DOWN. These things happen, and they shouldn't, but the railway officials should be given credit for achieving a certain level of efficiency which is UNHEARD of in the Indian public sector.
Abhijit Mitra, USA

I have travelled quite a bit on India's Rail network. Perhaps the small stretch along the sea to Rameshwaram is the best I have seen. The longest I took was from Bangalore to Delhi -- a good 48 hours. Like everyone agrees, it's a great experience. I look forward to riding those ancient machines hauling the North Eastern hill routes. I hope the Railways make it safer and a little cleaner. We are proud of you, Indian Railways !!
Sesha Prasad, USA

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