This weekend when I went home, I went by Chandigarh Jan Shatabdi (JS). In case that needs an introduction, its a Northern Railways train run between New Delhi and Chandigarh. Since my childhood I have this admiration for trains, that whenever I get a chance to travel by a train, I never miss it. I just love travelling by trains. So when I had decided that I'll leave sometime in the afternoon, JS was an obvious choice.
I got the tickets booked to avoid the hassle at the station. There have actually been instances when I have reached the station 40-50 minutes before the scheduled departure of the train, only to find formidably long queues of passengers at the ticket window. And, thanks to the great maintenance of Booking Counters by Indian Railways, none of the digital display boards seem to be interested in updating themselves after every transaction. They just lie there blissfully in a sweet slumber. Moreover, there being no separate counter for Jan Shatabdi, you never know how many of the queued people are actually for your particular train. All this leads to one conclusion - you can never be sure if you will get the ticket after half an hour of a sweaty wait. So ultimately I end up at ISBT(Inter State Bus Terminus), regretting my not booking the train tickets in advance. Soon I reassure myself by realizing that my decision to go home was too spontaneous to get that done.
So I was really elated after I had the ticket in my hands. But alas! did I ask for the window seat? No! And there was no way I was going to go back to the counter and get my seat changed. I did not even know the procedure of that. Also, I was unaware of the numbering system used in the coaches of JS. So I just prayed that I get a window seat. I am crazy about window seats - be it bus, train, or an airplane.
I reached the station well in time. The train was to depart at 1550, and I was at the station at 1500 hrs. Within 5 minutes, the train arrived(from Chandigarh). I entered the train, wishing that seat number 48 is a window seat. And to my surprise, it was actually a window seat! I was overwhelmed at my great luck. It is always my dream journey - travelling in a train sitting in the window seat.
There is one thing I hate about JS. It is fast allright, which is clear by the fact that it covers a distance of around 200 km (New Delhi to Ambala) in just 3 hours (thereby reaching at around 1850). A normal roadways bus would be able to manage it in not less than around 4 hours. But thats where the problem starts. The momentum just gets destroyed as soon as the train leaves Ambala. The journey is never the same. Chandigarh is only 45 km from Ambala, a kind of distance that JS should be able to manage in 30-35 mins. But the train takes a whopping 90 minutes to reach Chandigarh, reaching there not before 2020. This is just not done.
I agree this is all traffic and signal stuff, but I just wonder why the priority of the train is this low on this route. It has to stop for each and every damn train that needs a signal. Come on people, why so? Why would you not like passengers do travel the whole journey by your train? Why do you want to force them to take a bus after reaching Ambala station? I am afraid I have never done that, but if the scenario continues I will start doing that. Anyways I have only a month of stay left in New Delhi after which I will head to Mumbai. So doesn't make much of a difference to me.
Nevertheless, the train does save time if you compare it with a whole journey by roadways bus. Charging just 75% of the roadways fare, and offering too many additional facilities (to name a few are the all-time availability of snacks, tea etc. ; more comfortable seating; and last but surely not the least - restrooms), the train will always be an automatic choice of any passenger, provided the time suits him/her. Clearly there has to be a tradeoff somewhere. You cannot have the best of everything for less price in one firm with the other firm still making profilts. Roadways buses between New Delhi and Chandigarh are available so frequently that you just need to stand at the gate of ISBT for a maximum of 5 minutes. It seldom happens that no bus to Chandigarh crosses you in those 5 minutes. Thats where roadways win. But, if the departure time of JS suits you, there is nothing better (of course there is the Shatabdi Express, which charges a whopping 430 - personally I find it totally useless - no value for money).
Comparing with the famous fable, the roadways may well be called - "The slow and steady", and JS the other character who sleeps in the middle. But the moral doesn't hold here. "You thought slow and steady wins the race? Well, not always the case !"