* USB charging ports and reading lights for all berths.
* Ladders with comfortable footrests, additional handles for easier access to the top berth.
* Separate urinals for men in the toilets; foldable nappy-changing tables for babies.
* A GPS-enabled screen in each coach to display the train’s location.
With these and a few other changes, the AC 3-tier coach — the country’s favourite mode of travel for long-distance train journeys — has got a major makeover. “Ever since the AC 3-tier first rolled out in India, we have not been able to get rid of the footprint of the old design. Whatever little changes were made inside, the look and feel as well as the user experience remained more or less the same. Our mandate was to change all that and make from scratch,” said M K Gupta, General Manager of the Modern Coach Factory workshop in Rae Bareli, giving The Indian Express an exclusive preview of the new coach.
The first coach is currently awaiting the railway ministry’s final nod, before it hits the tracks as the new all-AC-3-tier Humsafar Express to be unveiled later this month. There are at least 10 major and minor design interventions — the AC 3-tier is the only passenger operation in which the Indian Railways makes a profit. As part of the new look, a beige-cream-grey colour scheme has replaced the old signature blue upholstery of the Railways.
Gupta said one of the “hardest design challenges” was re-doing the side-lower berths to make them more comfortable. Currently, the backrests of the two seats facing each other have to be lowered to convert it into a berth. But more often than not, the alignment of the two backrests don’t match, making the berth uncomfortable. In the new coach, this problem has been solved by placing a thin, cushioned plank alongside the side-lower seats. After lowering the backrests, the passenger will have to slide the plank up to place it on top of the joined backrests for it to become a flat berth.
“This was one of the three hardest design challenges. How light the second plank should be, how should it be fitted in channels so that it slides up effortlessly and rests on top of the backrests — these were the tricky parts,” said Gupta. Then there was the matter of providing charging points for every berth. Keeping the commercial viability in mind, the factory could not tinker with the number of berths — 72. But placing three-pin power sockets in the limited space available was not an option. So they went for USB ports. For every cabin of eight berths, there are two plug points and six USB ports.
“In trains, we have seen that people have a tendency to use their phones while they are being charged. That’s why we had to go for special capacitors for the ports so that they don’t heat up, or else it would have been a safety hazard,” said Anoop Kumar, Chief Design Engineer. The ladder to the top berth has also undergone modifications to provide more secure grip, and each berth has been provided a reading light. For the toilets, some inputs from a student of the National Institute of Design have been incorporated. The floor is made of a material which does not soil easily and the walls are graffiti resistant. The steel mug chained to a pipe has been replaced by a faucet.
The steel bangle-type water-bottle holder has been replaced by a slick, tiny plastic clip. The table comes with a covered dustbin, and the rack on top now also has a magazine shelf. These apart, the new coach has other add-ons, like CCTV cameras near doors, smoke detector alarms and tea-coffee vending machines. The manufacturing cost of each coach is Rs 2.7 crore, about Rs 20 lakh more than an ordinary AC 3-tier coach. With the all-AC-3-tier Humsafar Express’s fare about 15 per cent higher than Rajdhani fares, Indian Railways wants to create a new class of travel. “For AC 3-tier, this is going to be the new normal in Indian Railways,” said Gupta.
While four rakes of Humsafar Express have already been rolled out without the modifications, Gupta said the “fifth rake will carry the real change this project is meant to showcase.”