“It sets a new benchmark for Indian Railways. We have to keep doing better,” said Divisional Railway Manager Prabhash Kumar, who welcomed the passengers at the Agra Cantt station at 11.50 a.m.
The passengers got off the 12-coach train looking fresh and excited, officials said. The train includes eight Chair Cars of 78 seats each and two Executive Chair Car coaches with 56 seats each.
“A total of 411 passengers came in the inaugural run including a contingent of journalists,” a Northern Railway official in New Delhi told IANS.
Officials admitted there were many empty seats on Monday. The train will ply six days a week.
The train was flagged off by Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu at 10.11 a.m. from the Nizamuddin station in south Delhi, said Neeraj Sharma, the chief public relations officer.
From now on, the Gatimaan Express will leave Delhi every morning at 8.10. It will make its return journey from Agra at 5.50 p.m.
“Launching of Gatimaan Express is an important step for railways. Our drive to scale new heights continues unabated,” said Prabhu at the launch.
He also inaugurated an executive lounge at the Agra Cantt station via remote from Delhi.
The earlier fastest train connecting New Delhi and Agra was the Bhopal Shatabdi, which used to take 117 minutes to reach the Taj Mahal city from the national capital. It completed its return journey in 122 minutes.
The Gatimaan Express runs at a maximum speed of 160 km per hour and claims to provide improved onboard service, upgraded food menu and free onboard WiFi entertainment.
For the first time, the railways have experimented with train hostesses.
The train has bio toilets, radium strips on both sides of the coaches so that light is reflected back for security, jerkless draft gear system as well as braille signs.
The fare for a Chair Car seat is Rs.750 and for an Executive Chair Car seat Rs.1,500.
On Monday, a team of railway officials found shortcomings at 14 spots between Delhi and Agra. Workers toiled till late at night to set things in order.
The Shatabdi started in 1988. It was originally meant to cover the distance between New Delhi and Agra in 90 minutes but this was extended for safety reasons.
Meanwhile, the loco pilots of the Agra railway division continued their protest on Tuesday for being denied permission to run the train.
The ministry has asked the Delhi division to provide the staff.
Among those not really excited about the new high speed train are the tourism industry leaders.
“All three premier tourist trains — Taj Express, Shatabdi and now the Gatimaan — reach Agra in the morning and return in the evening,” said Rakesh Chauhan, president of the Agra Hotels and Restaurants Association.
“The tourists do not see the necessity of spending the night in Agra after seeing the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. At least one train must run from Delhi to Agra in the evening,” he said.