It is important for the railways to attract comparatively prosperous passengers because they are the people who play a crucial role in preventing the railways from suffering neglect.
As a firm believer in taking the train, I am delighted that the first Indian semi-fast express, Vande Bharat, is now running between Delhi and Varanasi, reducing the journey time from 13-plus hours to eight. There is much for India to be happy about too. The train has been designed and made in India and at half the cost of an imported train. It is fitted with all mod cons, or modern conveniences, so it will provide travellers with comfort they have never enjoyed before. Hopefully it will be the beginning of a revival of rail travel by Indians who have been seduced by the mistaken idea that air is inevitably the quickest and most efficient way to get from A to B. Even a member of the Railway Board once expressed surprise when I said I often took the train. City centre to city centre, the train is often quicker. In terms of efficiency, the train provides uninterrupted time for reading or working on a computer. Air passengers waste much of their time just getting on and off aeroplanes.
Some may think that the Vande Bharat Express is further evidence of India’s elitism. Why, it might be argued, should the railways use their resources to provide luxury travel which most Indians can’t afford? The fare is well above Shatabdi’s, which are already beyond the means of many Indians. But I believe it is important for the railways to attract comparatively prosperous passengers because they are the people who have influence, and play a crucial role in preventing the railways from suffering the neglect other South Asian railways have suffered. They are also the drivers of development as the Vande Bharat demonstrates.