It was an offer one couldn’t resist — a journey back home in Delhi, quicker by at least six hours, by the high-speed Train 18, rechristened Vande Bharat Express.
But as it turned out, the much-hyped train, suffered a breakdown early Saturday morning and could not deliver on the promise of reaching home early.
The train, empty on its return from the inaugural run from Varanasi on Friday, was ultimately late by more than six hours due to a mechanical fault and reached the destination –New Delhi — by 1 pm on Saturday.
Dozens of journalists, Railway brass, several other officials, some political leaders and a few others were on the train in its inaugural run from New Delhi accompanying Railway Minister Piyush Goyal on Friday morning. The train was flagged off by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a subdued ceremony, clouded by the dastardly terror attack near Srinagar on Friday that killed over 45 CRPF personnel.
With functions en route in Kanpur, Allahabad and finally a valedictory event in Varanasi, Vande Bharat had already overshot the scheduled travel time of eight hours to cover a distance of 775 km, which was understandable because of the inaugural run.
All the media persons, including from several regional television channels and railway officials and others were slated to come by a special train on the return journey, which would start around midnight to reach Delhi around midday.
However, a last-minute bait was thrown for those wanting to return to Delhi non-stop by the Vande Bharat Express which was travelling empty with a promise that it would touch the capital a little after 6 a.m.
Many did not fall for it because of the thought of a comfortable sleeping berth in the special train and chose to stick to their original schedule.
But there was a score of print and television journalists with news cameramen who jumped at the option to return by the high-speed Train 18. It left Varanasi a little after 10.15 pm. Having enjoyed the speed in the morning, the few of the privileged passengers began their return journey by Vande Bharat Express.
The majority of the journalists, who travelled in the Chair Car coach in the morning, chose to take the Executive Class for a feel of the luxury there–plump, spacious and well-upholstered seats that could take a 180-degree turn keeping with the direction of the travel.
A few who travelled by the Executive Class in the morning chose the Chair Car coach so that they can lie down across the three seats after lifting the armrest.
However, the top brass of the Railway Board chose to return by the Howrah-New Delhi Rajdhani to reach Delhi.
Everything was smooth but for the loud midnight announcements being made on the empty train about the stops in Allahabad and Kanpur for the railway staff to deboard. The sleep was often disturbed as the announcements were a little too frequent, considering the number of passengers to get down mid-day.
But as the passengers were hoping for an early arrival in Delhi, they could sense trouble because the fastest train on Indian tracks was running slow occasionally. And then came the complete halt at Chamraula, 194 km from New Delhi and still 2 hours 50 minutes to travel as the display on the LED panel for onboard entertainment showed. It was already 5.30 a.m.
After a couple of hours and a snooze, the journalists realised they were still at the same spot. Then came the offer from officials to switch to a Delhi-bound train. Came in the Vikramshila Express and those wanting to go — there were many — were shifted to the Delhi-bound train in a mid-track transfer. The train from Bhagalpur in Bihar was stopped for a “technical halt”.
While Vikramshila Express reached Anand Vihar Terminal on the outskirts of Delhi around 10.45 a.m., Vande Bharat reached capital at 1 p.m. The other special train carrying the majority of officials and journalists arrived around 3 p.m.
Officially, Railway spokespersons have said the trouble for the train came from a cattle being run over and a “communication and electrical failure”.
Even inside the coaches, mobile phone signals were weak often curtailing the talk while wi-fi was not available because, as one official put it, due to “electromagnetic interference”. Officials hope to set it right before Sunday.