A high speed train to be proud of

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June 13, 2015

A high speed train to be proud of

blue_moonA high speed train to be proud of

We were all waiting in the VIP lounge. Tea was being served and people of different nationalities chatted in various languages. This was the VIP waiting lounge of Tashkent railway station and the passengers in the lounge were observers from several countries of the world who had been invited to witness the presidential election in Uzbekistan. Many of the invitees were travelling to Samarkand, a distance of roughly 340 kilometres, to see election arrangements in the city. More than this, the visitors were being offered a ride in the fastest train of Uzbekistan – the Afrosiyob.

A few minutes past eight in the morning was the scheduled departure and the journey was slated for two hours.

A few minutes before the scheduled departure, the guests were escorted out to the platform where an impressive train stood waiting. At each of the coach doors stood conductors and hostesses to guide the passengers. The scenario looked very well organized. There was no chaos, no running around and it seemed a perfect picture of organizational discipline.

Inside the train, the appearance was that of any train in Europe. Comfortable seats, overhead racks for small luggage and monitors showing details of the journey.

As all of us settled down on our seats, there was an announcement and the monitors in the train lit up to show details of the run, the distance and the speed that the train will cruise at. Without a second’s delay, the train moved out of the platform. Within minutes the speed went up crossing 100 km/ph. as hostesses moved around handing over freshening tissues to all passengers. Tea was served with snacks busying everyone with the first meal of the day. The food and service was impeccable. The young hostesses moved swiftly attending to the passengers.

Though this was not my first journey by a fast speed train as I have already travelled in the fast trains of France and Germany, but this indeed was a first in a country in Central Asia.

As the train whizzed past fields and small towns, the weather appeared hazy outside. Though it was past eight, the sun seemed frozen into a silver coin being unable to melt the cold with its strong rays. However, inside the train it was warm and comfortable. The monitor was now showing the speed of the train and the distance to the destination. It was zooming at a speed of 200 kmph. Seconds later, the speed climbed to 229 kmph and remained at that for quite some time.

My Uzbek escort chatted with me through the interpreter who was a English teacher at the university. The two were telling me proudly about the train. Indeed, I agreed, it was a fast train, much ahead of the fastest in India.

We reached Samarkand at the precise time of arrival. By now the sun had proved its superiority over the mist and haze, it was shining brightly spreading its warmth in the slightly cold weather.

Samarkand also appeared to be a neat and clean station, well equipped to handle passenger traffic. I thought to myself maybe the waiting halls and public area for the general public would be different than the VIP exit. With the aim of having a peep into the general area, I exited the VIP area and then requested to be allowed into the general area for using the washroom. The security guard obliged and allowed me entry. I was once again impressed by the facilities and amenities in the general section of the station. The entire hall was clean, no stink, no overflowing dustbins and dirty walls. My suspicions turned out to be wrong. The station was well kept and looked after. Outside when I joined my escort and guide, almost all other observers had left in the cavalcade of vehicles that had been waiting for them. We were the last ones to leave for the city.

Visits to polling stations and historic monuments were part of the itinerary in Samarkand. Return back to Tashkent was scheduled by the same fast train in the evening, just two hours from here.

Afrosiyob is not only a proud achievement for the people of Uzbekistan, but also an example of the strides that the Central Asian republic has made after its independence following the break-up of USSR.

I cannot forget the proud smile of my interpreter who had pointed to the train and said, “This is the fastest train in Central Asia.” I added to it.