May 29, 2009

Trains, planes

After a gap of several months, I went to Bombay's international airport two nights ago. Had to pick up a friend.

Put it this simply: I was stunned. There's a massive new multilevel parking facility, with punch tickets (attendant at each punch machine to do the punching for you) and those levered gates that go up and down automatically. There's a large open area for people like me, waiting for passengers, to mill about and chat to nobody in particular on our cellphones. There are clear signs for airlines and arrivals and parking and so forth. There are clear screens that tell you that the flight arrived over half an hour ago, so the person you want to pick up may have got fed up waiting for you, and gone home.

There are some wrinkles, sure. One minor one is the constant phweet-phweet of some officious soul blowing a whistle. Another is that a huge number of trees were cut to build this new parking facility; young man who came with me spoke sadly of how he used to come play among them when he was a kid growing up nearby.

Still, overall, the place is many times better than the way it has been for too many years. Even five months ago, when I last went to pick up someone, this same area was a godawful mess of rubble, boulders mud and a gargantuan traffic jam; I remember thinking, when is this going to improve? Well, that just got answered.

The next night, I went to Dadar station to see off family leaving on a train.

Put it this simply again: I was stunned. To start with, the approach road was choked with arriving passengers and taxis double parked to pick them up and rubble and other taxis moving the other way ... it took us 20 minutes to negotiate that last 200 metres or so. Right outside the station is pure chaos: taxis and cars and people going every which way, whistles blowing, people yelling. Get through all that somehow, I don't know how. Unload bags and now you have to walk over all kinds of dirt and rubble to get into the station, which seems to have some construction going on so there are bars lying around and unfinished concrete walls.

Wanting to be good citizens, we want to buy platform tickets, and a cop directs us to a window with these words painted large and prominent above it: "PLATFORM TICKET". Long line. Stand in it, slowly get to the head, and what does the man behind the grill say? "Go to window #6" -- or some number like that, over in entirely another part of the station. But what about those two words above this window? "You didn't see the arrow!" says the man. Yep, there's a faint arrow pointing vaguely in the direction of #6.

That eventually accomplished, we make our way onto the platform. This, I don't need to tell you about. But I will: rushing passengers and porters; handcarts laden with stuff being pushed up and down; long lines of passengers squatting and waiting for who-knows-what; hawkers of every kind of knick-knack; beggars; grime and dirt and spit stains everywhere; inexplicable large patches of muddy water; you don't want to look at the tracks, they're so filthy; noise and dust and heat; and bathing it all, the overpowering aroma of piss and shit, in the same breath.

I don't need to tell you all this because this is the way our stations have been for years. Familiar stuff to us all.

Yet: Even today, many many more Indians use trains and stations than do planes and airports. Many of them pay fares -- in the various airconditioned classes -- that are at least comparable to air fares.

Why then is there such a diligent effort to improve our airports out of all recognition, but just none to improve our railway stations? Can anyone explain this to me?


Indian said...

Yep easy - it is easier to sell airports off the the highest bidder, because the general public won't notice. When the airport authority of India employees went on strike - because their new private owners forced them to do their job, nobody notcied. So, we got better airports, easier. Railways. Well, what can I say. The very idea of selling the stations to private owners to maintain is anathema to you, and others of your ilk. Yes, other typists. You will then proceed to bring up the examples of scandinavia, and other small countries which somehow manage to maintain there stations. Well they are not us. It is beyond any government in this country to control - at best it should oversee. Let the entrepreneurial masses do the hard work. But of course, dare I speak the name of privisation in terms of railways?

Anonymous said...

haathi ki lund teri ma di phuddi vich

Ot said...

hey dcubed, you really got some cogent answers to your queries, didn't you?

ever heard of boren's fifth law? applies to these yahoos. "when you have no answers, abuse."

(now don't rush to look it up, yahoos. i made it up. boren has laws, but not this one).

Dilip D'Souza said...

indian: are you really saying that "nobody noticed" both the turning over of airports to private parties, and "nobody noticed" the strike by AAAI employees? Both were all over the news, subject to plenty of discussion. Why would you claim that "nobody noticed"? (At a minimum, you noticed).

And in any case, what has your claim that nobody noticed got to do with the state of Dadar station?

I'd love to see you back up your assertion that selling stations to private owners is "anathema" to me. Please tell me exactly where I have ever suggested this.

I have taken trains in, I think, ten countries. Only one is in Scandinivia, and their sizes range from 3m to 90 m to 300m people (besides India, 1b people). At least three are developing countries like India. Of all of them, India's stations are by far the worst, in the sense I describe Dadar in this post. Now tell me, did I give you only "small countries" as examples?

What you are able to dare to do, I'll leave to you to decide.

Anonymous said...

OT ke gaand me danda, which causes him to shout 'YAHOO!", chahe koi mujhe Gaandu kahe, 'YAHOO!'

zap said...

The railway stations at Bangalore and Hyderabad were better than their airports till both cities got their spanking new airports at the cost of distance. And in Hyderabad, the Kacheguda railway station got a spruce-up about 3 years back too.

Anonymous said...

i dont know about in bombay, but in delhi, there has been a pretty large renovation program for the new delhi railway station. In fact, the railway station already has a metro station, which the airport doesn't have yet - coz it's not on the route.

But at the same time, speaking as a Delhi journo, I have noticed more media campaigns against the bad state of the airport in the last few years. I don't remember such a campaign for the railway station ever. A chief reason for the airport campaign was taht all that the top managers of newspapers had been inconvenienced by the pathetic facilities in delhi airport at one time or other.

Now, Delhi airport, domestic and international, is a joy to behold.

Ot said...

Dcubed, we're taking your mickey over at Sandeep's blog. You're an unrepentant commie, arent you? Admit it, you really want the airport to look like the stay-shun! In your commie paradise that will be the case. The BJP really should have won, then they'd have taken care of folks like you. At least at Sandeep's blog we can do that now.

km said...


What if one saw it purely as a marketing problem - one has to "sell" a service (which is what an airport is) to a higher-income group and so, in response, one has to make it shinier and cleaner and, if I may use that cliche, "world-class". A train station caters to a "different demographic".

I know, that's a terrible design spec for town planning, but that is what they seem to be doing.

Arzts said...

I'd love to see you back up your assertion that selling stations to private owners is "anathema" to me. Please tell me exactly where I have ever suggested this.Still don't give up playing your childish games do you. Why yes, Dilip, nowhere have you 'said' anything. You have only implied it, in your various writings and associations across the board. You are correct, there is no evidence saying that private railway stations are anathema to you - except the fact that this doesnt even strike you as a potential way to improve them. Which is a little shocking, because empirical evidence suggests that it worked in the case of Airports. However, you have your own agenda to further, yes, yes, I know - 'where have you said anything about agendas'. Nowhere. However, what you imply with your naive post is that the airports were improved because they matter high-income people - oh yes, I know - you have not 'said' this anywhere. It is all in my delusional head. You would rather let someone else actually say it - in this case commentor 'km' took the bait - so that you look 'objective' when somebody accuses you of a bias. Grow up, and grow a pair. You want to have a real live civilised debate? Then take a stance, have the balls to actually say something instead of hiding behind these idiotic implications, and hints. Empirical evidence across the board shows that taking our country's assets out of government hands and into private hands has improved them beyond recognition. Mercifully, the contract to upgrade New Delhi railway station was awarded to a private contractor, and work on that is progressing. Shame it's just the NDLS station though.

Furthermore, Indian makes a good point - why is there a whole ministry for railways in this country? Simple - because it's a great way for ministers to earn a supplementary income. You want to deprive our impoverished ministers of income? This is what he means by 'people will notice' if you try to tamper with the Railways. Not to mention the fact that it is the second largest employer in the country. No such influence in the aviation ministry, therefore, changes in the airports were allowed to sail through - RELATIVELY easily. Because the idiot communists figured 'oh they are just rich people's play things, we don't care about those'. But had reform been suggested in the railways, you can bet that every politician would be up in arms blocking it - because of the loss in revenue they would face.

And OT - most commentors don't reply to Dilip's posts, because like this one, they feign naivete, when they are actually implying the standard old leftist agenda, but you see, it is never 'said' anywhere. Just 'implied'. So that this lifeless old man can play his game which is: 1) Bait the right-wingers. 2) When they fall for the bait and accuse Dilip of bias, say 'Where have I said XXX'. 3)On reading through post, rabid right-winger notes that Dilip has not actually said.... anything, just implied.

Dilip D'Souza said...


> Then take a stance, have the
> balls to actually say something
> instead of hiding behind these
> idiotic implications, and hints.

All right.

1) Airports improved once they were turned over to private parties.

2) Railway stations have not improved.

3) I would like to see railway stations improve.

4) I have no objection in the least to privatisation of railway stations, if that will improve them like airports have seen improvement. (Like I had no objection fo privatisation of airports before).

5) So why have railway stations have not seen any improvement -- whether through privatisation or anything else? My feeling is, because there are enough vocal people who think "progress" and "development" equate only to cars and flyovers and malls, and "worldclass" airports. Not to improving less apparently glamorous things, like bus systems and railway stations.

Now that I said it, no longer can you pretend I implied privatisation is "anathema" to me. Now let's see you argue this stuff instead of shooting at ghostly, but convenient, implications.

By the way, you said all this:

> Grow up, and grow a pair. ...
> have the balls ...
> instead of hiding behind ...

This, from a guy who calls himself "arzts", complete with a fake blog URL too? What's it, using your own real name takes too much out of you?

Yeah, let's have a real live civilised debate. Start by finding the gumption to use your name.

Dilip D'Souza said...

km: Maybe so. But that's the reason I pointed out that many train travellers pay fares that are now broadly comparable to air fares. (A/c first class is nearly the same as air, a/c 2 tier is about 60-70% of air fares).

Why not cater to that demographic, then?

I'd like to see "world-class" mean something more than just flyovers and shiny airports. Let's see it mean greater comfort and efficiency and cleanliness for all.

Anonymous said...

Rather than having shining airports and railway stations that can be 'attractive' targets to terrorists, the focus should be to make people feel secure and in these these public spaces. The other focus should be on hyegiene - good drinking water, clean toilets and comfortable places to sit down.

Once we get the basics right, we can put on the 'shine' to these places

km said...


Thanks for that clarification. My knowledge of Indian rail fares is indeed quite dated.

Allow me to indulge in some basic marketing analysis again:

I wonder if it is possible to know the cost of moving one passenger through air and train networks and the revenue earned from one passenger from each of the two networks?

What I am going for is this - could it be possible that while railways (possibly) spend less per passenger, maybe they also derive lesser revenue (than an airport) per passenger?

If so, why bother upgrading the infrastructure? And really, what can the "consumer" do? It is a supply problem, if you think about it. When I want to get to Boston, I can choose from the I-95, the Amtrak, the airport or a Greyhound - or even that 10-dollar Chinese bus!


I have no idea about the numbers here and I am just trying to see if it is possible to uncover a better answer than a simplistic "because no one cares for rail passengers".

Chitta said...

Railways are making efforts to sprucing up their stations. See

Railways set up core Group to monitor PPP projects for world class stations
12:29 IST
The Ministry of Railways has decided to constitute a Core Group for monitoring of Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects related to development of World Class Railway Stations including New Delhi Railway Station. The Committee will set up clear timeframe for each of the 22 railway stations, which will be upgraded to world-class stations. The Group will take stock of the progress and also devise a format for compiling a monthly progress report. The move will give further flip to the modernization activities aimed at improving passenger amenities.

The Group will review and strengthen other related departments of Railway Board to enable them to deliver results as per the targets laid down for PPP projects. The Group will also formulate a list of preparatory activities to be completed by the Zonal Railways before any station is taken up for developing as a world class and this would include the dedicated organizational set-up that needs to be created with in the Zonal Railways for this purpose.

Earlier, in a move to make Indian Railways world’s number one Railway network, the Committee on Infrastructure approved the proposal for completing the first phase of modernization of the New Delhi railway station into a world-class station through Public Private Partnership before the Commonwealth Games, 2010. In addition to New Delhi, the other stations would be developed as world class stations are: Agra, Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Anand Vihar, Bangalore, Bhopal, Bhubaneshwar, Bijwasan, Chandigarh, Chennai, Mumbai CST, Howrah, Jaipur, Lucknow, Mathura, Patna, Pune, Secunderabad, Thiruvananthapuram, Varanasi and Gaya.

The Core Group will consist of high-ranking officials of Railway Board. These are; Member (Engineering), Additional Member (Commercial), Adviser (Infrastructure) and Adviser (Finance). Adviser (Land and Amenities) will function as the Convener of the Committee.



Since then some progress have been made; but it has been slow.

Chitta said...

In regards to modern Bus terminals, see about efforts being made in Orissa at

Ot said...

>> Let's see it mean greater comfort and efficiency and cleanliness for all.

This appeal proves it (in case there was any doubt), Comrade DSouza/Dcubed. You remain an unrepentant commie nutjob. Please keep up the amusing commentary. We in the extreme right wing really need the comic relief.

OK, admit it, you're really Rajiv Tyagi, aren't you, Comrade?

Ergo, we really should have taken care of commies like you and the remaining Muslims in India in '47. But no matter, we'll wait for the BJP to come back to power and finish that job.

Anonymous said...

And OT - most commentors don't reply to Dilip's posts.

few guys are more clownish than the one who visits a blog ... comments there at length and repeatedly ... and then informs that "most commentors dont reply" .....

Ramesh said...

Start by finding the gumption to use your name.

And the guy has vanished! Im hardly surprised.

annie said...

i think our national 'international image' might have something to do with it too. i cannot help wondering how we'd feel about out railways and buses if people could take a train from the developed world into india.

that said, would like to point out that there is a ministry for civil aviation as well.

and also that dadar is pretty bad. VT isn't much better. but in other cities, other improvements have happened even for rail travel. improvements such as mobile charging points inside trains, even at waiting rooms, and on platforms. building more than one station for fast-growing cities, like lucknow. new delhi is much, much better. my only regret is that they don't have live pooi-aloo stalls on the platform.

Dilip D'Souza said...

km: If so, why bother upgrading the infrastructure?

A reasonable question, I'm sure. But there are signs that some things are being improved/upgraded. e.g. what Annie refers to. Or Bombay's suburban trains going from 3 cars (their original form, I believe) to 6 to 9 to 12 now, and to a proposed 15.

Or take just the existing classes of travel. You're willing to pay more, you can travel in one of four different air-conditioned classes. Who would suggest that those coaches should be exactly the same as sleeper class?

Yet so many of the stations remain in the same condition they've been in for years. Why? It makes no sense to me.

Ankita said...

Excellent post! I really enjoyed reading it. I will be back for more!

kaushik said...

oh! nice to know that the B'bay airport has improved so well...
i came there in December and it was all construction....but the inside the departures the terminal was awesome :)

Glad that it looks good from the outside also....

Dadar is always a mess...I hate going there...the whole place for out-station trains stinks....

Sumedha said...

I think one of the reasons might be that people don't really expect railway stations to get better. As in, it's very normal to see railway stations like that. But airports represent development and progress, so to see them look... well, look like the railway stations, people are horrified! So people raise their voice, and things get better.

It might also be that when traveling in trains, you go from one sucky station to another, so there's nothing to compare against. At international airports, however, you're either coming from, or going to another country that may have an airport better than ours. So people get more agitated. I can't help comparing the Delhi international airport to the Singapore one every time I fly back home from college.