Bring on the enter-train-ment

Oct 07, 2012, 07:24 IST | Moeena Halim

The next time you board a train on the Central or Harbour line, you may be greeted with Charlie Chaplin's dippy antics on screen, or even to an old, forgotten classic. Your next long-distance train journey to Ahmedabad, too, will soon be more than a snooze and book-reading marathon. Much to the commuter's glee, the Indian Railways is installing LCD TV screens in local and long-distance trains, which will broadcast entertainment, and occasional emergency information, finds MOE

Last week, in the first class compartment of a Harbour line train running between Andheri and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, 26 year-old entrepreneur Shoaib Lokhandwala came across “the happiest bunch of train commuters” there could ever be.

“As soon as I sat down, I noticed everyone around me smiling broadly, eyes glued to something behind me. I looked back and saw the reason — Charlie Chaplin!” exclaims Lokhandwala, narrating his reaction to the new LCD screen TV installed in the train.

Eight Central Railway trains have been fitted with LCD screens in every compartment. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

“I was pleasantly surprised — I travel on this route quite often, but this was the first time I had seen a TV screen on the train,” says Lokhandwala, a Santacruz resident, who works at Reay Road. He is also impressed with the content — the TV screens don’t air the same old stodgy and grainy anti-smoking and rail awareness campaigns. Charlie Chaplin, in fact, feels Lokhandwala, is the perfect pick. “He cuts across cultural boundaries and always gets a smile from the audience,” he says.

CR takes the lead
The train Lokhandwala boarded was not the first or the last local train to offer commuters more than the eager-to-shove elbows and knuckles.  Since January last year, LCD screens have been fitted in every compartment of eight Central Railway (CR) trains — four on the Central line and four on the Harbour line. “We will install screens in four more trains over the next three-four months,” says Ayaz Surti, spokesperson for Fortune Creations, the company, which bagged the tender for the installation of the screens. The company is also responsible for the maintenance of the screens and managing the content aired. Although the installation began last year, the process is a slow one, rues Surti.

Passengers board the new Mumbai-Ahmedabad double-decker train

Fortune Creations has tied up with news channels and advertisers, for content. They have also started screening in-house content. “Earlier we had been provided with clippings of Charlie Chaplin’s classic movies. But more recently, we have started screening some in-house content developed specially for these audiences.

One such show is called Dimaag ki ghanti which is similar to KBC — we ask questions to the public and they are supposed to SMS the answers to us. We give away prizes every week and every month. Another show is called Pehchaan Kaun — passengers are supposed to identify celebrities to win prizes. The idea is to keep passengers entertained while they travel,” says Surti, adding that the screens will also broadcast health warnings and information. “We also screen videos from the BMC on health and hygiene, which we will screen for the welfare of the passengers.”

CR also hopes to use the screens to spread information regarding railway services. “In case of emergencies, for instance, if the train breaks down, we could use the screens to keep passengers in the loop about the progress. We could also make announcements of the railways’ new initiatives,” says AK Singh, PRO, CR.

At the moment, only CR trains have LCD TV screens. “Many of our trains with the TV screens have been converted to Harbour line trains. This happened because, since mid-2011 the CR is in the process of retrofitting 1500 volt direct current (DC) to 25,000 volt alternate current (AC) trains, so they can run faster. The Harbour line is using those old trains,” explains Surti, adding that the company would be more than happy to offer the same service to Western Railway (WR) trains, too. “We’re absolutely ready. We’re just waiting for them to ask.”

Double-decker, double fun
The WR may not be fitting their local trains with TV screens just yet, but they have big plans for the new double-decker chair-car train, which plies between Mumbai and Ahmedabad.  “We plan to install LCD screens in the trains so passengers can stay entertained while they travel,” says CNK David, PRO, WR. The installation and maintenance of these screens will be on contract basis and the WR plans to invite tenders soon.  “The screens will be primarily used to air entertainment programmes. But we will also set certain guidelines to ensure only appropriate content is aired,” adds David. 

“It gets really boring in a chair-car train. You can carry a magazine, read the newspaper, but what next? You’ve got to spend eight to 10 hours just sitting around,” complains 27 year-old Devesh Joshi, who travels to Ahmedabad once a month. He is happy to know about WR’s plans. “I’d enjoy watching the latest Bollywood movie on my way to Ahmedabad. Also, most passengers in a chair car train are businessmen, so the railways could also broadcast a business channel and give information related to the share market, perhaps,” adds Joshi, who recently invested in property in Ahmedabad.  “They must provide earphones, though. There’s too much noise in a running train and the exercise will be futile without earphones,” suggests Joshi.

Television on the move
Northern Railway’s Kalka Shatabdi Express, which plies from New Delhi and Kalka in Haryana via Chandigarh, installed television screens behind each seat in the executive class as a pilot project in February last year.

“We wanted to test the reaction of passengers. They were given the option of watching satellite television on their individual screens,” explains HC Kunwar, information officer, Indian Railway Board. “The pilot project was a great success.”

Technical problems, however, have caused a delay in the installation of the screens in more rakes. “It has been a year since we awarded the tender to a company. They are very keen on the idea, but they have not been able to find advertisers. This has led to a delay in the process of installation, but it will be done. They will handle everything — installing the screens, finding suitable content and maintenance,” says Samir Kumar, senior divisional commercial manager, Northern Railway.

“It is unfortunate that the Indian Railways doesn’t have the required funding for the project. Fares for these trains are so low that we would not be able to afford the upkeep of the screens. That is why we had to outsource it,” rues Sinha.

No more boredom
Providing entertainment on day trains, where the passengers are travelling by chair car, is definitely an added advantage. “On long journeys in sleeper trains, people can go to sleep. They don’t have to sit around killing time. But in a chair-car like the Shatabdi, there’s not much to do apart from reading,” explains Sinha.

“If we provide them with a television screen, they can choose to watch any channels they like. If there’s an exciting cricket match on, they don’t have to miss out on the action — they can watch it on the move. They can stay abreast of world events, too,” he adds.

“While travelling to Ahmedabad, I would definitely choose the double-decker chair car over the Karnavati — which leaves around the same time. After all, it promises an entertaining ride. I know I won’t get bored,” concludes Joshi.  

First in the world
In 2010, First Great Western, a railway line in the UK, became the first train service to provide their passengers with an individual TV screen on their high-speed trains. The train company, which operates mainly between London, South East England, South Wales, South West England and the West Midlands, charges an extra £3.95 to customers who wish to use the facility. For the fee, passengers can access films, TV shows, documentaries, sport channels and a journey tracker throughout the journey. The company claimed that their screens topped the quality of most screens found in the business class of airplanes

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