The rich legacy of railways, chugging with a luxury retreat, is slowly losing its ground. The pristine sheen of old coaches seems fainting as there is an inflow of new, polished and shiny AC coaches.
Once upon a time, trains in India offered classy compartments. They enjoyed all kinds of amenities on board. There were plush carriages (coaches) which were divided into individual cabins or suites. The ultra-luxurious interiors were well-equipped with carpets, electric lights, fans, wood-work, royal-size beds/berths, showers, servant quarters, etc.
Some of the trains had ‘Air-Conditioning’ facility in First Class, where a big block of ice was lowered into a slot on the floor or on top of the roof. The fans were directed at the block for giving a cooling effect! First Class also had the added luxury of a shower unit. There was electric lighting attached to each berth, providing individual reading lights, and at least two electric ceiling fans. Such was the grandeur of these compartments. These cabins were like a separate room or suites which had their own doors that opened on either side of the carriage to the platform. There were many such rooms in each carriage. It was luxury at its best and such opulence is difficult to be seen anywhere in the world on general trains today. Also, the corridors which we see today in trains were nowhere seen in those times.
Each compartment looked like a living room. With four berths, plenty of space, and an attached toilet for every compartment, the First Class coaches portrayed luxury from every nook and corner.
However, gradually, the layout of these coaches started to change. There came the ‘corridor-type’ First Class coaches that replaced the old and grand First Class coaches. The First Class was limited to a cubicle which had the sliding door and a latch attached to it. The passengers had the choice to close their cubicles when they wanted and hence the privacy was maintained.
These coaches had different compartments namely A, B, C, D, or 1, 2, 3, 4, etc., and had either four or two seats. They offered two seats on each side and open space in between.
The two berth variety was known as ‘Coupes’. Coupes had one lower and one upper berth, while the four berth compartments had two lower and two upper berths.
There used to be a centre table fixed in between the two seats where passengers kept their lunch boxes and water bottles. On top of this table, a big mirror was installed. Such was the impression of these First Class coaches that people used to look upon with pride after coming out of them. No one could ever enter these cabins until and unless the passenger permitted. Even the ticket checker used to knock the door and then get inside to check tickets.
These compartments gave excellent comfort and privacy, which made the long journeys pleasant. They promised a kind of cosiness and privacy with night travel; it was possible to lock the compartment doors and enjoy a good night’s sleep in your reserved compartment. Over the passage of time, these coaches started disappearing from trains, paving the way for AC coaches to come in.
The Great Turnaround
The trend of AC coaches started in 1928 when the Bombay Baroda & Central India Railway introduced an air-conditioned coach on its prestigious train, the Frontier Mail. This was the first train in India to have air-conditioning. It was followed in the 1930s by the East Indian Railway on its premier train, the Delhi-Kalka Mail and was later followed on its Calcutta- Bombay Mail.
Many stations did offer refreshment rooms and there were Restaurant Cars available with their silver service on important trains. It offered excellent facilities and it was fun walking along the platform to the restaurant car at stations, which were designated in the time table for scheduled lunch or dinner. The hygiene, cuisine and service offered was unmatchable and was of the highest standard. It was managed by a Dining Car Manager who would dress impeccably, complete with a bow tie and tuxedo for the evening meal. He personally inquired each diner about their meal.
The Latest Scenario
Presently, there are many high-profile trains which earlier had the FC (First Class, as commonly mentioned in railway jargon), but now it has been replaced by the First AC and Second AC coaches.
Also there are many trains running on Metre Gauge and Narrow Gauge with FC. However, it’s a bitter truth that the FC coaches are seeing the evening of their lives. They are being pulled out in favour of more AC 3 Tier coaches. This is because present day travellers are ready to pay more or less the same amount (or a little higher) for Air Conditioned seats.
The high intensity of summers and rising level of pollution are also forcing passengers to prefer AC over Non-AC compartments. Eventually, the usage of First Class in trains has declined at a steady pace. Now, if you want to travel in such compartments which are on threshold to be a part of history, you can explore options on the route you want to travel to, in a few trains, that are still running with these FC ‘coupes’. Get your tickets done in First Class, before they become a part of the ‘extinct species’.
And for those who have enjoyed the charm of travelling in First Class, let those memories cherish the quality time they had spent in trains during the long journeys. As they slowly disappear from tracks, they leave a few fainted memories in mindset of travellers like me who had always loved to travel in FC compartments.
First Class compartments, you will always be missed!
Written by : Archana Sharma