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Indian Info-trains are the social communicators
Communication through trains is not new to India. We had ‘exhibition on wheels’ earlier too, but last year saw three trains around similar periods. All were on social issues. These 'Info-trains' do have their own distinct advantage in reaching out.
LAST QUARTER of the year 2007 saw three ’info-trains’, i.e. mobile train exhibitions being used to reaching out to people of India with information and education on various social themes. ’Azadi Express’, which was to commemorate 150 years of the 1857 war, 60 years of independence, and the birth centenary of Shaheed Bhagat Singh. The special train had 11 coaches, which had displays on the major incidents in the making of India since the first war of independence. The same train is traversing to about 70 destinations across India. It is the way to communicate on the experience of the spirit of freedom movement in India through visual medium, to its people.
’Science Express’, another 13-bogie train exhibition that is traversing across 57 cities in India to showcases various research accomplishments made in the field of science and technology. This exhibition is offering information on the issues like spaceships, cosmos, big bang theory and black hole, besides topics like galaxies, biotechnology and renewable energy sources and computer application in medicine. It is an initiative of Vikram A Sarabhai Community Science Centre in collaboration with the department of Science and Technology and ministry of Indian Railways.
’Red Ribbon Express’, a third train exhibition, aims to spread awareness about HIV/ AIDS in the country, which is an initiative of National AIDS Control Organisation. It is an eight-coach train with varieties of multimedia and interactive displays, which aims to provide information and answers to many queries on the issue. It also has cycle troupes traveling on board, which will mobilise people and spread information in 25-kilometre radius around the railway station where this train halts. State AIDS control societies supporting mobilisation of people and are providing counselors at the stations to help discussion sessions on the issue like HIV/AIDS.
Communication through trains is not new to India. We had ’exhibition on wheels’ earlier too, but last year saw three trains around similar periods. All were on social issues. These ’Info-trains’ do have their own distinct advantage in reaching out with information to people, though the mode of communication is different. Its uniqueness of being on train brings in newness and creates interest of the people. A ’vehicle to transport people’ becomes ’carrier of knowledge’, which is an experiment worth to watch. It is this uniqueness, which also brings in the added challenge of communication, as people have to visit railway station and enter the train to see the displays in the compartments of the train. Here the role of media gains quite a bit of importance in mobilising people to visit the train. Then the hyped curiosity levels bring many to visit the same.  
Innovations used in displays in the train will and do matter; it not only reinforces the message, but also helps in retaining the attention. Azadi Express and Red Ribbon Express, the ones that I saw, had activities on the platform of the railway station to add more attraction to the visitors? There are a lot of ground activities by various departments of the State, which these trains visit to help in getting people especially youngsters. Youngsters are the ones, who are the prime target group for all these trains. But a word of caution to increase the numbers of such kind of trains will be looked into how to retain that curiosity and pull the people towards these trains. Keeping them one or two in number every year with adding innovations will retain this newness but the clutter of similar ones will have impact on the interest. All these trains are an expensive proposition and a balance will also need to be drawn.
All views expressed in this piece are the personal opinions of the writer.
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