The Indian Railways is upgrading the Sleeper Class and unreserved General Class coaches as AC (air-conditioned) coaches. This will allow the Railways to roll out all-AC trains, without taking away the option of low-cost travel for the public, said officials. Officials said the upgraded Sleeper Class coach will be an “economical” AC 3-tier Class, in between what is now the AC 3-tier Class and non-AC Sleeper Class.
Sources said the Rail Coach Factory in Kapurthala has been entrusted with the job of making the prototype of the upgraded Sleeper Class coach, which will have 83 berths instead of the current 72. Internally, the upgraded coach is being termed as “AC 3-tier Tourist Class”, an official said.
“It is like an affordable AC 3-tier Class,” said a senior official, adding that the idea is to make AC trains affordable for all.
In the first phase, about 230 such coaches are being manufactured. Each coach is estimated to cost about Rs 2.8-3 crore, which is about 10 per cent more than the manufacturing cost of the current AC 3-tier Class coach. However, with more berths and expected demand, the new ‘economical’ AC 3-tier Class is estimated to bring in more earnings.
The unreserved General Class coaches are also set to get an upgrade as a 100-seater AC Class. While the design for this is being finalised, officials working on the project told that the initial design had provision for 105 seats per coach.
The last time the government tried to roll out an economical AC 3-tier Class was during the UPA-I government (2004-09), when Lalu Prasad was the Railways Minister. Introduced in the Garib Rath Express trains as ‘AC Economy Class’, a side-middle berth was added to increase capacity and profitability. However, passengers complained of discomfort and overcrowding, and these coaches were eventually discontinued.
In the new ‘economical AC 3-tier Class’, more space has been created by shifting the electrical units, and by doing away with the compartments for storing linen sets.
As reported by The Indian Express earlier, the Railways has decided to stop distribution of blankets and linen sets in AC coaches, even post-Covid.
Sources said the idea behind the upgrade is to gradually move towards an all-AC model, although a formal decision on this is yet to be taken. Meanwhile, the existing stock of non-AC coaches will continue to operate, officials said. “Whether these will be phased out eventually is a call yet to be taken,” said an official.