Ever since the Indian railways introduced the AC 3 -Tier coaches 10-12 years ago, they have become very popular. It started as an experiment to replace the erstwhile 1st class (Non-AC) coaches and priced at the same level. Since then, the railways have replaced all Ist class (Non-AC) coaches with AC 3-Tier coaches. It is not just replacement of the Ist Class (Non-AC) coaches , in all the new trains introduced later such as Durontos, AC 3-Tier coaches have been provided.
AC 3Tier is such a popular class of travel that during the holiday seasons, it is among the first ones to get filled up. The number of coaches of AC 3-Tier in many long distance trains are continuously being increased to cater to this ever growing demand.
Here is an attempt to analyse why this class of travel has gained popularity. It started as a replacement to the Ist Class ( Non-AC). The traditional Ist Class passengers, such as the government servants, interview candidates and the families travelling on Leave travel concessions had already shifted to the AC 2 tier/ Air travel as the eligibility shifted. Thus Ist class remained a class of last resort to passengers who were unable to secure AC 2 Tier or sleeper class reservations.
As passengers accidentally tried the AC 3 Tier, they started seeing its virtues. The Airconditioning made long distance travel comfortable as opposed to the non-AC first class coaches. Also, the AC environment cut out the dust and noise an inevitable accompaniment in sleeper or Ist class (non-AC) .It may be 3 times costlier than the sleeper class, but it was still 33 % cheaper than the AC 2 Tier. The lesser space and headroom in comparison to the AC 2 tier was a compromise the value conscious Indians were willing to make for the lower fares. Perhaps, similar reasons make low cost carriers gaining market shares.
Since the 90s, with the prosperity coming to the PLUs ( people like us/urban middle class Indians), who traditionally travelled by sleeper class for family holidays and personal travel, found the AC 3 Tier an affordable and attractive option. Besides, the practical benefits of AC travel, there could be other emotional reasons of choosing to travel by AC 3 tier.
The growth of the 90s and 2000s, led to rising isolation of PLUs with the rest of India and Indians. As many commentators talk about the rise of gated communities, private schools, private hospitals, AC cars, etc making the yuppies having little contact with the rest of India and Indians.
The ordinary Indians (aam aadmi) who PLUs wish to move away from travel by the sleeper class. AC 3 Tier for a small price, isolates PLUs from the ordinary Indians. The glass windows and curtains keep the filth and chaos of Indian stations out of sight. Also, the fellow travellers are PLUs, who have chosen AC 3 Tier for similar reasons. Snobs who can’t afford.
Sometimes accidental innovations like these rather than conscious innovations ( like the ill-fated 3rd berth added to the side berth in AC 3 tier coaches) work in India.