Now, 20 hostesses will keep travellers on Gatimaan Express comfy
At the end of each 100-minute journey, the hostesses and stewards are appraised on their performance and the trip menu is locked.
In her crisp, blue uniform, Divya could easily be mistaken for a flight attendant. She walks down the aisle, greets all passengers, hands each one a rose and face wipes, and asks them their meal preference. Divya is one of 20 staffers -- half of them women -- aboard the Delhi-Agra Gatimaan Express hired exclusively to work as train hostesses and stewards.
The train, the fastest in India running at 165 kmph that was launched in April, is the only railway service to have hostesses and stewards.
From serving food to providing newspapers and magazines, these staffers assist passengers in all possible ways. They are well versed with both English and Hindi, are accompanied by four housekeeping staffers and monitored by two managers. "It is a completely new experience," says Divya, a Delhi resident who graduated from the Indian Institute of Hospitality Management. "Serving passengers this way inside a train was never heard of before. The experience has been good so far," Divya.
The hostesses' monthly pay ranges from Rs 16,000-18,000.
The contract for hiring hostesses and stewards has been given to snacks and sweets manufacturer Haldiram Foods.
"The staff usually serves breakfast when the train leaves Nizamuddin station in Delhi for Agra. It comprises both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food," says Sudhir Sharma, manager (Haldiram), Gatimaan Express. At the end of each 100-minute journey, the hostesses and stewards are appraised on their work, given feedback and suggestions for improvement, and the menu for the return trip in the evening is decided. The staff is then put up at a hotel for the day.
The train hostess service is a permanent feature on Gatimaan Express, says an official from the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation. "Extending this service to other trains is a policy issue."
Despite the number of amenities offered -- TV sets in the executive chair and WiFi -- and reasonable fares, Gatimaan Express hasn't found many takers yet. During weekdays, 70 per cent of the seats are vacant. Weekends are fairly better, with only 20 per cent vacancy. The train has two classes -- eight chair cars with 78 seats in each and two executive coaches with 56 seats in each. The tariff for a chair car seat is R755 and R1,500 for an executive seat. Passengers mainly comprise foreign tourists.
The proposal for train hostesses on the lines of airhostesses was mooted during the tenure of former Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee. But owing to repeated changes in the ministry, the plan was put on the backburner.