Three years since the launch of e-catering for passengers on board mail and express trains that do not have pantry cars, officials said the service offered by the Indian Rail Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) has seen satisfactory growth. The service, launched in 2014, was meant to offer a choice of food items to passengers on board trains through regulated rail catering system. Officials said the service has picked up well, especially in the western zone which includes Maharashtra, due to a wide base of vendors here and better spending capacity of passengers.
“The passenger is allowed to book the ticket through our website or mobile application called ‘food on tracks’. Booking by sending a text message is also available. We have 72 vendors to provide the food. While the delivery time is within two hours from the nearest A1 or A railway station, some vendors, realising the popularity of the service, have cut down on the delivery time to one hour,” said Pinakin Morawalla, Public Relations Officer at IRCTC.
According to figures obtained from the IRCTC, 15,59,670 meals were served in the financial year of 2016-17 through the medium with a total billing of Rs 17 crore. Comparatively, in 2014-15, the earnings from the service was Rs1 lakh from 1,490 meals sold.
“Passengers with more than six hours of journey prefer this option of booking food. We have 50 more vendors in the pipeline. Apart from famous providers such as Domino’s Pizza or Haldirams, there are four self-help groups in Sawantwadi associated with this service,” he said. However, some challenges persist, said officials. Apart from unauthorised vendors on board the trains, some food aggregators have launched their own portals that allow passengers to place orders, keeping IRCTC out of the chain.
“This violates the law as providing catering to passengers is the sole responsibility of the IRCTC or registered food stalls and outlets under Railways. In the past few months, we have served notices to some aggregators who have allowed train passengers to book orders without keeping IRCTC in the loop. We have also deployed rail way staff on board trains and platforms to curb the practice,” he added. IRCTC incurs 12% from the base value of each meal booked from any caterer.