Indian Railways is introducing a new category of coaches for its passenger trains, the Economy 3AC coaches, which are 3 tier AC coaches with an increased number of berths. Yesterday, the Railways had informed that the ticket price for Economy 3AC coaches will be 8% cheaper than the regular 3AC coaches. These new coaches will have 83 berths, against 72 berths present in regular 3 tier AC coaches, which has enabled the Railways to decrease the fare.
However, some reports on how the number of coaches has been increased have created confusion among people. On Sunday, a PTI report said that the new coaches will see the return of side middle berths to increase the number of seats. It said, “The regular 3AC coaches have two side berths, which will be increased to three in the new coaches.” The report was carried by several media houses. An independent report by Indian Express also made the same claim.
This had created confusion among several readers, who wondered why the Railways is bringing back a ‘dreaded feature’ which was earlier removed due to huge outrage from passengers. The side middle berth was originally introduced by Indian Railways in 2006, when Lalu Prasad Yadav was the union Railways minister. The coaches with additional side berths were added to Garib Rath, Mail and Express trains. This had increased the number of berths in the sleeper and 3AC coaches from 72 to 78, increasing revenue. However, this was a hugely unpopular move, as it had made travelling in the side berths very uncomfortable, especially on the side middle and upper berths.
To accommodate the 3rd berth, the side upper berth was moved up, which already has lesser space due to the curved roof of the coaches. This has made climbing to the upper two berths very difficult. Due to massive protests from passengers, the side middle berth was removed from mail and express trains. But they were kept in the Garib Rath trains, as the fare for Garib Rath trains is much lower.
Therefore, it is unlikely that the Railways is bringing back the hated side middle berth. Earlier this year, the Railways had released photographs of the newly developed 3AC Economy coach, and the images make it clear that they don’t have three berths on the side. The newly designed coaches have increased convenience for the passengers, like individual AC vent in each berth, reading light for each berth, improved stair design for climbing up to upper berths, better designed foldable tables etc.
Even though the number of berths has been increased, it was not done by adding the side middle berth. The Railways had earlier informed that in the new coaches, they removed the high voltage electric switchgear which is installed in the coaches near the doors. This equipment has been moved below the underframe of the coaches. Moreover, the storage space near the doors for storing bed linen has also been removed from the coaches.
The designers of the coaches also have used thinner composite materials for the partitions between the compartments. These measures have created additional space in the LHB coaches, which have enabled the Indian Railways to add 11 more berths. Therefore, the number of berths has been increased without compromising on passenger comfort, as the media reports are suggesting.