Indian Railways restarts live catering in trains

IRCTC has a near monopoly on supplying food to the Indian Railways

Indian Railways has decided to resume live catering services in all long-distance trains, given the restoration of normal train services a week ago, and asked IRCTC to restore live catering services as before.

Live catering services, involving the cooking and delivery of food in specially designed kitchen cars on trains, were stopped in February last year, as COVID-19 started spreading in India.

Indian Railways also stopped the supply of cooked food on trains, sourced from IRCTC canteens in railway stations.

Instead, IRCTC was asked to provide packed and ready-to-eat food items on trains, which comprised semi-processed items.

“A review has been conducted by the [Railway] Board regarding catering services on trains in light of prevailing factors such as the pandemic witnessing a declining trend, the resumption of cooked food in restaurants, public eateries and airlines, and an assessment of passenger demand, which shows that the sale of ready-to-eat [kits] have not picked up and there is a marked passenger preference for cooked food,” Indian Railways said in a letter to IRCTC.

It also pointed out that, with the resumption of regular train services from the 12th of this month, around 2.33 million passengers are booking reserved seats on Indian Railways every day.

Indian Railways also conducted a survey to figure out passenger food preferences, which indicated that “only 7-10% of the passengers purchased ready-to-eats, while 40-70% of the passengers preferred cooked food”.

“In view of the resurgence of rail travel and the easing of COVID lockdown restrictions in eateries, restaurants, hotels and other places across the country, it has been decided that the service of cooked be resumed [on trains],” Indian Railways said.

It also added that IRCTC may continue to supply ready-to-eat kits to cater to those customers who prefer them.

Indian Railways also said it has decided to restart the facility to book food in advance by prepaying for the same on premium trains such as Shatabdi Express.

The move to restore the supply of cooked food on trains is likely to increase revenue for IRCTC, which enjoys a near monopoly on the supply of catering services and food on running trains in India.