“How do you cope with the service provided by the Railways?”. That must be the question I have been asked frequently. I often reply, “I don’t have to. The passengers do”. It’s certainly true. I travel in cozy comfort in an anxiety free and psychologically comfortable atmosphere cooked up by the personal staff provided for my benefit. The crocodile tears that have been shed over Railway’s passengers would flood the Brahmaputra once again, so there no need for me to add my drop to them. No matter how much it may upset you, it’s better to be honest and admit that I have learnt to live with Railway callousness. The only excuse I can give is that millions of passengers suffer the trauma of rail everyday.
This environment has come to stay like the ubiquitous and to drag us down. Customer Care cannot survive in an over regulated dominance of the ‘filariat’ enshrining the divine right of pen pushing babus.
Our organisation is on trial and that is the central problem. In an imperilled organisation, becoming a true public servant has become a master game, a challenge, and our last exercise in heroism. A recovery of the self to serve and a revision of goals should be our topmost priority, the roots of our new life and the very sense of service. Customer Care and public service shall never come by proxy.
To implement the concept of ‘CUSTOMER CARE’ a vision is needed to inspire and cement together a team of marketers, designers, engineers and finance people to create winning products. Winning customer approval on Indian Railways has taken a backseat for want of a battleground where brand values play a crucial role in encouraging a customer to choose your service than the competition.
Quo vadis? How does one build in prestige and added value in rail service? For instance, a train is a unique environment. As Paul Theraux while writing the foreword “ WHY RAILWAYS” for The Book of World Trains claims that “the train is the only vehicle that permits the traveller access to all his luggage. In a car it’s hidden in the trunk, in a plane or bus it is hidden in the underbelly; on a train it travels with you, suitcase, valise, messkit, library, parcels; and the headache of keeping it together is relieved by the fact that at any moment you can root around, change your socks, find another book, verify that you haven’t forgotten your tennis racquet, set out your bottles and invite that corker in the next carriage over for a drink. What a comfort to be among all your belongings!” But often technology is driven by the need to leapfrog the competition by innovations to redefine expectations – art rather than craft. Therefore if one dares to innovate, the process of certification needs to be carefully managed due to aggressive time-scales to meet stipulations of rail standards (generally RDSO) and government and safety regulations.
Notwithstanding the bureaucratic jamboree, we must closely examine the ideas, which spring to mind for the railway’s image enhancement and catering the essential services for highly valued journey experience, which leaves the customer longing for more.
Providing variety is a means of enhancing journey experience and also a guaranteed of pleasing most of the people most of the times. It involves creation of an environment to suit one’s choice of mood or activity with a level of refinement, sophistication and a choice between socialising and privacy. A premium class interior consisting of interactive in-seat entertainment systems and executive style rotating seats with electronically operated facilities are to be implemented. In order to offer variety within these facilities, add a high quality restaurant service, a work surface with integrated electrical sockets for lap-top computers and portable phones, and a stress free journey. These offerings epitomise excellence and highest levels of service and drastic improvements compared with existing journey experience. Since the varied facilities, such as vending machines, telephone kiosks, coffee bars and entertainment systems are revenue earning, and also have the additional merit of alleviating the monotony of a standard journey, their inclusion into the vehicle layout is fully justified. Furthermore, monotony propagates vandalism; so any gain in this direction has to be positive in terms of cost savings and intact vehicle appearance.
The criteria for choice of rail travel needs to be examined in view of the facilities offered. Some opt to make full use of travel time and offered facilities to work individually, or alternatively use the limited time available during intense travelling for high quality rest.
The most important single item is the seat or berth. It must be highly flexible, softer in appearance and assuming a look and feel of luxury. The pitch must be generous for long distance trains. The surrounding environment will form part of the customer’s package. By adjusting window curtains or blinds, air-condition temperature, and individual lighting, passengers should be able to alter the local ambience to suit their individual requirements. Care must be taken to ensure where possible, that access and egress should not disturb fellow passengers, thus eliminating any possible psychological discomfort.
The Gardenmoen airport project in Norway placed high demands on industrial design from infrastructure to train crew uniform. One of the psychologically comforting factors of interior design is that wherever the passengers choose to sit they will always be in view of their luggage. Luggage space has been expanded totalling 30-metre square from conventional luggage racks above the seats to accommodate smaller items. Adequate waste bins have been catered to and one entrance is equipped with a totally concealed ingenious lift that a wheel chair passenger can use with one quick press of a button. The general ambience of the passenger areas is enhanced by light, spacious interior designs using neutral colours with contrasting strong colours for items such as coat hangers and handles.
Knowing that most existing dreams stand an excellent chance of becoming a reality, it is necessary to constantly look at and predict future trends and developments. What is obvious is that in the conception of vehicle design simplistic philosophy of modularity is to be married to flexibility, needed to cater for individual and diverse requirements.
Since the train travel can give quality time for passengers to work, socialise or rest, zones are required. Phone free zones using special glazing technology to prevent radio signals entering the vehicle (as done by Antranz) will be required considering the hostility towards mobile phones. Microenvironment can be created for example by creating the entrance at the centre instead at either end. This enables two vestibules to be combined into one large place thus creating a retail, bar and lounge area of what is now otherwise a wasted space. This also doubles as a security facility.
Noise and vibration is a primary input in passenger comfort. This also improves train performance and reduces maintenance costs. The leading designing was done for Shinkansen trains (series 700) which include the 8.5 metre long Aerostream nose. it fulfils multiple functions – improves ride comfort (by preventing turbulence to restrain Karman vortex effects), reducing pressure waves at tunnel entrances and exits (by employing an optimised constant rate of change of cross-sectional area) and reducing wayside noise. “Smoothing” the coach body and underflow surfaces also reduces wayside noises. Introducing anti-yaw dampers that absorb vibrations and suppress lateral and longitudinal motion enhances ride comfort, and as also bogie damper (semi active) which is a microprocessor controlled sensor continually adjusting the force between bogie and body producing the same effect (also introduced successfully in Shinkansen Series 700).
Noise can be reduced in the passenger area by using a double skin insulated extruded al structure for the car body and floor. Further reduction will be possible by a two-stage air-conditioning system using small high-speed turbo fans. Simultaneously, relocating the air conditioning ducting can raise ceiling. Privacy can be enhanced by providing glazed screens between bays as adopted by London Clubman t.
As a further step towards improved safety, the arrangement of under floor equipment can be such that inspections can be carried out from the side eliminating the need for maintenance staff to crawl beneath the coach.
Speeds of the trains are now mainly dependent on track layout geometry. to increase speeds at curves requires easing of super elevation by longer transition curves meaning land acquisition and new tracks laying. Successful commissioning of ICT, German Rail’s (DB) high speed tilting train has changed this for now.
Technically, ICT is the forerunner of the next generation. It will significantly reduce journey times on sinuous routes by being able to run through existing curves at speeds up to 30% faster than conventional trains.
London Transport is negotiating for a new smart card based contact-less fare collection system for its underground. The main aims of the new ticketing system, involving new gates and touch screen ticket issuing machines are to provide customers with:
· a quick, convenient and accessible ticket selling service.
· fares and ticketing that give potential customers confidence to use railways
· fares and tickets that will maximise demand
· tickets that reduce journey transaction times and therefore make travel easier.
Evaluation of its costs is comparable against that of a conventional purchase contact. The system also generates analysis about customers and their travel patterns, reduces opportunities for fraud and offers flexibility to adopt existing fares as market conditions change.
Ideas need to be explored and new designs must be inherently feasible to manufacture no matter how novel and must meet the stipulations of regulations and maintainability. All details must be carefully managed so that the end result matches the vision of customer care. Only an integrated design and engineering process, working in partnership with commercial people and manufacturer will achieve any tangible results for the benefit of the customer.