Earlier this week, the prototype of a new rail travel class, AC-III Economy, was finalised for oscillation trails at the Indian Railways’ Research Designs and Standards Organisation in Lucknow.
What’s this class
It is meant to be an affordable, air-conditioned version of the non-AC Sleeper class. The job of creating this was given last year to state-owned Rail Coach Factory (RCF), Kapurthala, the maker of the Linke Hoffmann Busche coaches in India. As reported in The Indian Express in September, the design philosophy was to take a non-AC Sleeper coach as reference and try and turn that into an AC coach.
AC-III tier is the only travel class that makes a clear profit for Railways, and is also said to be the most popular. AC-III Economy is expected to maintain that — and provide AC travel to the masses while keeping it affordable.
Rather than an upgraded version of the non-AC Sleeper, the prototype looks like an upgrade from the existing AC-III tier.
To start with, the design imprint of the existing Sleeper class coach is absent. In fact, officials said, the whole coach has been reimagined from scratch.
“We will start the series production by the end of February. I think we have inched closer to our dream of producing ‘aircraft like’ experience for common people,” Ravinder Gupta, General Manager, RCF, Kapurthala, told The Indian Express.
RCF plans to manufacture 248 coaches. The cost is currently estimated at between Rs 2.8-3 crore per coach, which is around 10% more than existing AC-III tier coach. For Railways, the earning potential of these coaches is also higher, owing to more capacity.
The next target is to redesign the General unreserved compartment and turn that, too, into AC class.
Instead of the standard 72 passengers, the new AC coach has a capacity of 83. This was achieved by shifting the high-voltage electric switchgear, now installed on board all coaches, to the underframe—a first for Indian Railways.
Like in luxury cars, every berth will have its own, individual AC vent. This was done by redesigning the whole AC ducting (pipes that transport the air from the AC unit) in the coach.
Each coach is provided with a wider, and one disabled-friendly, toilet entry door, which is a new initiative.
The berths themselves are a product of new, modular design. The ladder for climbing to upper berths has a new design. This one, designers say, is non-intrusive. There is increased headroom in the middle and upper berths.
There are foldable snack tables in both longitudinal and transverse bays, and holders for water bottles, phones etc.
As in aircraft, the interior of the coach has luminescent aisle markers, and illuminated berth indicators integrated with night lights with luminescent berth numbers. In existing trains, passengers are often disturbed at night when new passengers have to switch on the lights to check their berth numbers.
The western and eastern-style toilets have a new design.
Adjustable window curtains are a new addition. Fire safety complies to the world benchmark of EN45545-2 HL3 for materials.