On platform number 6 of Agra Cantonment railway station on Tuesday evening, Pankaj Kumar Garg, the driver of Gatimaan Express, responded with a nervous smile to every “Best of luck, bhai”, “Dikha de!” and thumbs up. “I have driven on this route for seven years. Gatimaan Express runs at 160 km per hour…it’s all very exciting,” he said.
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Flagged off from Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin station in the morning by Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu, the “semi high-speed train” left Agra at 5.52 pm — two minutes behind schedule —and reached Delhi at 7.32 pm.
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There were just over 200 passengers in a train with a capacity for 700 people. “I have travelled a lot, and I’m quite impressed by Gatimaan Express. We reached Agra in exactly 100 minutes: the service was terrific and the food pretty good in the morning. But I wonder if they will be consistent,” said Deepak Lal Sachdeva, a Delhi-based businessman who was travelling with wife and son.
At 1 pm at The Trident hotel in Agra, two Canadian tourists were left slightly confused when the hotel staff went in an overdrive over their query of a train to Delhi. “The boys at the reception were so excited when they told us about Gatimaan. They immediately booked us on it. We had taken the Shatabdi to Agra four days ago, and honestly can’t see much difference in the two trains. They are both equally good,” said Mark Dunsmir, 43.
The evening meal in Gatimaan Express comprised a white bread sandwich, a cold chicken roll, two small, soggy potato wedges, and a piece of cake, apart from ice cream, tea and packaged lemonade, underwhelming most passengers. “In the morning, it’s a breakfast menu — continental, south Indian and north Indian. In the evening, it’s a high-tea menu,” said Rituparn Sharma, general manager, Travel Food Services (TFS), the new caterers on board.
TFAS has trained Gatimaan’s hostesses. “There are 10 coaches, and each will have one male and one female host, and three managers overall,” Sharma said.
For many, the on-board WiFi entertainment is a major let down, as the app has a series of flop movies from the 1960s and ’70s, and comedy episodes by Jaspal Bhatti and Raju Srivastav. “Who watches these?,” complained a commuter.
At 7.32 pm, the platform at Hazrat Nizamuddin Station became a selfie spot, with Gatimaan first-timers and onlookers getting in the frame with the new kid on the tracks.