After extending e-catering services to 1500 trains froman initial 28 non-pantry car trains, Indian Railways has now started withdrawing pantry cars from long-distance trains across the country.
The railways are reportedly looking to replace the pantry cars by “e-catering” and takeaways, in an attempt to modernise India’s sprawling and underfunded railway network.
“This is a long-time plan of the Indian Railways. The idea is to … reduce dependency on private caterers who are in charge of pantry cars. The other reason is to replace the pantry cars with passenger coaches to earn more revenue,” an Indian railways official was quoted as saying.
Undertaken by Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), the railways catering arm, the e-catering service was started as a pilot in June with 28 non-pantry car trains. Under the new system passengers can preorder their meal on an app or website, by phone or SMS, and then pay online or on delivery at a station of their choice.
The station-based e-catering has now been made available in 45 major stations, that includes Mumbai Central, Pune, Howrah, Sealdah, Guwahati, New Jalpaiguri, Patna, Bhubaneshwar, Visakhapatnam, Mugalsarai, Kanpur Central, Lucknow, Varanasi, Jaipur, Bilaspur, Kharagpur, Allahabad, Gorakhpur, Amritsar and Chandigarh.
Along with the extension of scheme to more trains, the initiative has witnessed increase in the number of partnership of several privately-run foodservice majors which now include Domino’s, KFC, Street Foods by Punjab Grill and Wimpy, who are aiming to improve quality of products delivered on trains.
While e-catering was a welcome move to enhance the rail travel experience, the new move to phase out the pantry cars may not go down too well with passengers. As some of the trains from which pantry car services have been withdrawn pass through stations without e-catering services during breakfast, lunch or dinner time.
For instance, Eastern Railways announced recently that pantry cars on Howrah-Dehradun Upasana Express and the Howrah-Haridwar Kumbha Express trains will be discontinued, albeit temporarily, from November. Both trains start from Howrah at 1 pm so lunch is not an issue on the day the journey starts. Passengers can either reach the station after an early lunch or order from Howrah that has e-catering services. Evening snacks can also be picked up at Asansol and dinner at Patna as both stations have e-catering facilities.
The trouble would start next afternoon with passengers wanting to order lunch. There are no stations between Lucknow Charbagh and Haridwar or Dehradun that has e-catering facilities. Though many people will bring their own food, some kind of fresh sustenance is essential. Snacks can be bought from vendors at stations but for more filling fare the pantry car has long filled the gap.
Overall more than half a million meals a day are prepared in pantry cars or specialised kitchens and served to passengers. Though prices vary, they are usually extremely low.
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