With the BIAL being situated very far away for most people, traveling to nearby cities increasingly is using train as the mode of transport. Compared to yesteryears, these days Railways has done some serious upgradation to the type of services that are provided on the trains. I found out about this when I had a chance to travel to Chennai city by the First AC coach.
Erstwhile the only real perceiveable difference, other than the fact that there was AC, was that the seats seemed to have a leather covering in First AC which was not present in Second AC. From outside, the compartments look pretty much the same:
Inside too, one could not tell the difference between these two classes of travel
(Second AC) (First AC)
But after sometime, Railways upgraded the FIRST AC to be more cushiony and more decent in looks, the cabin itself looking more airy as well. The roof moulds were also done up from the inside and more neater upholstery was put into place which gave that well shaven look.
But my journey this time, was extremely comfortable due to better seating arrangements on the coach. The seats themselves were much wider than before, enabling most of us to sleep very comfortably. Not only that for people with kids, like me, one could easily put another small kid next to us on these coaches, which we could not easily do in other classes of travel. The cabin itself was done up with the rather old and dated "Incredible India" slogan with a lone tiger peeping out of the poster. Contrast this with the actual situation in Sariska National Park and Sunderbans, where the tiger numbers are dwindling day by day and you would know how incredible India really is.
Back to the topic, the general look and feel of the First AC had vastly improved by now.
Curtains were looking rather dull in colour, but solved the purpose more than necessary. Also there were wardrobes in two passenger coupes (now that sounds like a hotel room). Also there was a large mirror with its own lighting, 12V sockets for using laptops and other tech gizmos of today. All switches were of very good quality and there was nifty little luggage racks all over the place to stash away your luggage. The berth itself was extra large, with two rounds of bedding/bedsheets with one high quality rug to keep you warm in the AC if required. There were also reading lamps towards the headrest which was a good feature. Yeah, they were always there, but this time they worked!
There was also a netted pouch to keep important things like the mobile, purse etc away while sleeping tight. Also the bottle holders were present at necessary places to stack bottles of water for use at night.
The only technical advancement I really found (other than the 12v power socket) was a panel that indicated which of the four toilets were occupied or full. This is a very good feature in my opinion, and one would not want to waste time waiting at the toilet unnecessarily. The toilets themselves had tissue paper rolls and plenty of water (I am kind of ashamed to say that in other classes of travel the paper rolls arent there!, but that is the irony of this country).
Also there is a morning wake up call in once train reaches the destination in case you have overslept in the comfort :) This is again a welcome feature. Perhaps a newspaper and some snacks would complete the story well. The Railways is contemplating providing either wired or Wifi net access and I should think to believe that its perhaps already there in some trains by now. This in my opinion is a giant step ahead for our country. The simple reason is that due to sheer necessity, this feature is NOT available in other countries, which is pathetic. The economies of scale permit India to implement such a thing with ease.
Finally the total ticket value was around Rs.700 (about 16$) which is much lesser than any airfare and the time wasted going to the airport is more than covered by this train journey. Kudos to the railways for constant improvements and I wish them good luck to improve facilities at a much faster rate from now and not take 50 more years to bring in advancements. One grouse though that I had was that I had to carry umpteen bags from platform 4 to platform 1 in Bangalore city station, via an overbridge without any trolley or escalators. Thanks to Porter - Raj (the illegal reign of porters) we always end up paying 150 to 200 bucks to the porter for something that we might ourselves do when we are in the pink of our health. Shame on you Railways for not upgrading platforms and station facilities. The only commendable part is that I did notice an Airtel Buggy (an electric vehicle provided by a local mobile operator) to ferry around handicapped people. And since the definition of handicapped does not include people who have small kids, this lot of people cant use the buggy even on paying a nominal charge. Common Airtel you cant be so mean!
The next time you travel by train, dont forget to check out the First AC, you would have a pleasant sleep I promise!