Mumbai: The only long-distance train on the Indian Railways that will be serving food cooked on board in this pandemic, is the privately operated Mumbai-Ahmedabad Tejas Express, that will resume services from February 14. And this is how it will be for a long time to come, as according to railway officials, chances of pantries serving cooked food to passengers on long-distance trains, will not be on the menu at any time soon. On February 11, the Indian Railways Mobile Caterers Association (IRMCA) had a meeting with the Railway Board officials, to discuss the future of pantry catering.
Starting this Sunday, the Tejas Express, connecting the two cities will resume operations, with pantry offerings from the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC). According to officials this at present will be the only train in this sector (and the Lucknow-Delhi Tejas in the north) to serve cooked food, as it is privately operated and fares are dynamic in nature, depending on the demand.
As on Thursday evening, there were 256 seats available on the chair car and 52 in the executive chair car, for February 14. The officials said that the demand is not all that encouraging in the days to come with bookings being in the range of 45-50 per cent of the total capacity. This is apparently because people try to avoid the RT-PCR test that happens at various terminating stations for Covid-19.
The total seating capacity in the 10-car Tejas Express is 736 seats, which comprises 56 seats each in two EC coaches and 78 seats in eight CC coaches. “We will continue providing the best of cooked food to our passengers, which is a good way to attract footfall,” said a railway official.
Train travel is not just about the commute and the passing sights but also the meals on wheels served to passengers. One of the delectable aspects of the journeys on the Rajdhani and the Shatabdi is for their food as well. “Passengers want hot cooked food served. But the rail ministry is still maintaining that ready-to-eat food will be served to passengers,” said a member of the IRMCA.
According to railway officials, the pantry system in long-distance trains has been more or less disbanded and people will have to either carry their own food or book through e-catering or buy ready-to-eat (RTE) food served in these trains. The idea doing the rounds in the railways is to convert the pantry car into a 3-tier AC coach that will ferry more passengers, with just a side pantry to warm ready-to-eat food.
“Train travel is also a great way of promoting tourism. Food served to passengers plays an important role and so pantries need to continue,” said AV Shenoy.
Sources said that the railways are slowly disbanding the pantry car services in trains and are encouraging e-catering, which too resumed from February 1. As per figures, since February 1, there were 9,650 bookings through e-catering, of which 4,600 were delivered, bringing in a revenue of over Rs 13 lakh.
Almost 50 per cent of the total e-catering food ordered is vegetarian and non-vegetarian thalis and the rest is Chinese, pizza, biryani/pulav and chaat items. Last October, Tejas Express had begun operations only to discontinue it because of the increase in Covid-19 cases.