Ever since it started operating, the Indian railways has been the common man’s most-used mode of transportation for long journeys. Even the Presidents of our country have not been immune to its charms.
There is, in fact, a special presidential saloon that was built in 1956 for the head of state. The twin AC car coaches were numbered 9000 and 9001. However, due to their inability to run at a higher speed, with changing times and demand these were decommissioned in 2008.
Over the past several years, their use by the Presidents has reduced drastically due to a number of reasons, security being one.
Presidential saloon: A fading memory
In the early years of its commissioning, the presidential saloon was used frequently. As per the records from the President’s Secretariat, the country’s first President, Dr Rajendra Prasad, often undertook train journeys.
Soon after taking office, Prasad visited his birthplace Ziradei in Siwan district of Bihar during his visit to the state.
He boarded the President’s special train from Chhapra to reach Ziradei where he spent three days. He travelled across the country by the train.
Until the late 1970s, it was frequently used by the first citizens of India. Prasad’s successors — S Radhakrishnan, Zakir Hussain, V V Giri and N Sanjiva Reddy — too, often preferred train journeys to connect with the people and travel across the country. The twin coaches travelled nearly 90 times with the President until the late 1970s.
However, for nearly three decades after Reddy, the special luxury coaches remained off the tracks until APJ Abdul Kalam took office.
Kalam was among the first citizens who preferred the train over flights. He used the train in 2003, 2004 and 2006.
Kalam boarded a special train from Delhi to Dehradun to attend the passing out parade of cadets at the Indian Military Academy (IMA) in 2006.
By the time Pratibha Patil became the President in 2007 and expressed her desire to travel by the presidential saloon, the coaches were decommissioned.
Special saloons for railways ministers
Just like the presidential saloon, the special coaches for the railways minister are also away from the spotlight. Lalu Prasad Yadav, during his term as the railways minister between 2004 and 2009, used the special train, which has remained unused since then. He travelled on the train nearly 370 times.
Kovind using special presidential train
After more than 15 years, President Ram Nath Kovind will embark on a journey to his hometown in Kanpur on a special presidential train on June 25. This will run from Safdarjung railway station in Delhi and will take Kovind to his village Paraunkh in Kanpur Dehat.
The journey will have two stopovers — at Jhinjhak and Rura of Kanpur Dehat — close to the President’s birthplace. Kovind will stop there and interact with his old acquaintances from his school days and from the early days of his social service.
The journey is special for the President as this will be the first time that he will visit his birthplace after taking over the post in 2017.
On June 29, he will return to New Delhi on a special flight.