New Delhi: All 16 zones of the Indian Railways are likely to host luxury restaurants fashioned out of discarded rail coaches, with work on five already underway, ThePrint has learnt.
The proposal follows the enthusiastic response evoked by the first-such Indian Railways restaurant, named Chennai Express after the Mumbai-Chennai train, which is located in the Tamil Nadu capital.
According to a source in the Railway Board, the next restaurants are likely to be launched in Cooch Behar and Prayagraj by the end of this year. Another is being set up in Mumbai, the source added.
A senior official in the Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) said the transporter wanted “to set up one such rail restaurant in each zonal area”.
“Work is already on in a few places, including Hajipur and Kolkata,” the official added. “Western Railways had also visited the Chennai restaurant and wanted to adopt the same model.”
Chennai Express is the first rail coach restaurant set up by Indian Railways, but a similar project was completed by the Madhya Pradesh Tourism Department in 2015. The Shaan-e-Bhopal is named after a train that connects the national capital to Bhopal. Both are locates on railway station premises.
There have been private ventures on these lines too, with the concept courting popularity abroad as well.
A source of revenue
Making restaurants out of cast-off coaches helps the Indian Railways convert a battered asset into a source of revenue besides generating employment.
A rail coach restaurant comprising 16 tables — as at Chennai Express — can seat 60 people, with another 30 accommodated in a patio designed to resemble a typical platform.
According to a source in IRCTC, the LHB (Linke Hofmann Busch) coach that serves as the premises for Chennai Express was given to the agency by the railways’ Integral Coach Factory (ICF).
Chennai Express, which doesn’t serve breakfast, is open from 11 am to 3 pm for lunch and 7 pm to 10.30 pm for dinner. The fare on offer straddles several cuisines, from steamed chicken dumplings for Rs 230/plate to a “Madras Prawns Masala” for Rs 295 and malai kofta curry for Rs 195.
“IRCTC was asked to do the interiors and the seating arrangement,” said IRCTC official Ravi Kumar. “We didn’t have enough space for a kitchen, so we used a makeshift container and modified it into a modular kitchen with all possible equipment.”
“We spent roughly Rs 20 lakh on the interiors, including painting and lighting etc… Around Rs 7 lakh was spent on the kitchen alone,” he added.
One of the people in charge at Chennai Express said IRCTC was operating the restaurant through the service-provider model, with the caterer engaging experienced professional chefs from good restaurants.
“The menu has a mix of the traditional railway catering menu served during the British period. We also serve some dishes famous in Chennai,” the person added.
“People can even book the entire rail coach to throw a party for approximately 60 people between 3 pm and 7 pm.”
Shaan-e-Bhopal, meanwhile, serves everything from aloo chat for Rs 120 to hot and sour soup for Rs 135, and chicken steak sizzler for Rs 320.
The premises are a coach the tourist department has leased from the Indian Railways.
“We have a motel kitchen inside the coach. From railway cutlets to chilly mushroom and from chicken Manchurian to Gulnar biryani, we have a long list of mouth-watering dishes,” Shaan-e-Bhopal general manager Sanjit Bakshi said.
“Besides the sitting arrangement in a coach, we have nice white metallic seats on the ‘platform’. This rail coach restaurant has become one of the well-known eating joints in Bhopal.”
Apart from restaurants, discarded rail coaches are being put to other novel uses as well.
Bengal’s Sealdah division, for example, has converted an old motor coach into a medical van on wheels, “Pradip”, for ailing employees posted in remote areas.
Equipped with a patients’ waiting room, doctors’ chamber, dressing room, wheel chairs, and stretchers etc, the van was set up at a cost of Rs 14 lakh.