In city for a meet, Dinesh Trivedi and a few MPs experience Mumbaikars’ travel travails
What happens when a former railway minister and a few MPs decide to travel second class in a local train close to peak evening hours? Hilarity ensues, they experience a Mumbaikar’s daily travails and your commute may get better as a result.
mid-day saw this once-in-a-blue-moon event first hand late last afternoon, when reporter Shashank Rao accompanied former Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi and a few MPs as they used local trains to travel from Churchgate to Matunga Road and back.
While one MP mistakenly got into a women’s compartment and left the others wondering how the rest of us ever manage to figure out where the different kinds of coaches will line up on each station, Trivedi missed a train at Dadar because of the rush and asked railway officials to consider increasing the duration of halts at stations.
He also jumped out of a running train and, after looking at the yawning gap between platforms and trains, remarked that it wasn’t the commuters’ fault that they fell through the gap while boarding and alighting.
Trivedi, who is the Chairman of the Standing Committee on Indian Railways constituted by the Parliament, was in the city to discuss the draft Railways (Amendment) Bill, 2014 with MPs, rail authorities and passenger associations.
After a detailed 2-hour meeting on the issue, he decided to experience a journey on the suburban railway network, lessons from which are likely to make it to the bill, which will be presented in the Parliament soon after the Union Railway Budget. Here’s a blow-by-blow account:
3.30 pm: Swachh Churchgate
Just 20 minutes before Trivedi and the MPs reached Churchgate, Western Railway (WR) authorities got several men and women to clean the concourse of the Churchgate station.
Staffers hide away a seemingly unused cleaning machine at Churchgate and bring in a new one
While some cleaners were cleaning up the floor, some of them were seen shifting an unused-looking cleaning machine to a hidden corner next to the stairs.
They were using another newer-looking machine to wipe the floor as well, while the railway police began asking beggars and hawkers to stay away from the station premises.
3.50 pm: MP in a ticket queue!
Trivedi, along with a few MPs, members of the Standing Committee and railway authorities reached the station around this time. “I don’t want any security personnel around me,” he instructed the railway authorities.
Dinesh Trivedi in the queue at Churchgate
“They push people around, without regard to their gender,” he told them. After looking around the station, he went to the ticketing area, stood in a queue and bought around five second-class tickets to Dadar.
He walked to platform 1 with the railway officials and asked them about the difference between first and second-class coaches.
4.01pm: Oops moment
One of the MPs mistakenly ended up boarding a ladies compartment of the local on the platform, only to be told about the different coaches. The group then boarded a second-class compartment, but an announcement was made that it was a ‘service local’.
Trivedi and the MPs in the service train
The other commuters got off the train, prompting Trivedi to enquire what a service local was. The railway officials told him that the local was heading for the railway car shed, but with a halt at Mumbai Central.
A few Good Samaritans also came up to the window and asked Trivedi and the group to alight because the local was going to the shed. The railway officials, however, told Trivedi and the MPs that Mumbai Central was just 10 minutes away and they could board another train to Dadar from there.
Less than a minute before the train was to leave, however, Trivedi said that he would rather travel in a crowded train. The train had started by then and Trivedi got off the moving train. The other MPs and railway officials followed suit while the train gained momentum, but everyone managed to alight safely.
4.05pm: Taste of the crowd
This time, rather than boarding a slow local from platform 2, Trivedi and the others were taken to platform 3, where a Vasai-bound train was standing. They boarded a second-class compartment. “There is lot of gap between the platform and train,” said MP Sanjay Dhotre from Akola.
The compartment was fairly crowded and Trivedi and the others stood near the seats. Trivedi then made his way to the corridor, next to the door. The ex-minister asked one of the passengers, who was travelling on the footboard, to stand inside.
Later, amidst the rush, he spoke to the railway officials on the problem of overcrowding. “Over-crowding is the biggest issue on the suburban railway network of Mumbai,” said Trivedi to mid-day.
4.20 pm: Alighting woes
Since it was a 15-car train, it halted directly at Mumbai Central. As the train trundled towards Dadar, passengers became curious about Trivedi’s visit. When the station approached, some railway officials ticket checkers and other field officers knew enough to make their way to the door. Platform 3 of Dadar was crowded and people began jumping into the moving train.
Trivedi, other MPs, Divisional Railway Manager Shailendra Kumar and other officials struggled to alight due to the dense crowd there, but somehow managed to land safely onto the platform. “This is not even the peak hour crowd,” a railway official told Trivedi, who was surprised.
“Is this the way people travel? It is quite difficult to board and alight,” the former minister rem-arked. He then took a tour of Dadar station, making his way to looked platform 1. Here, too, he saw children standing with boxes waiting to get into the luggage compartment kept on the floor of the platform and asked officers how people identify where their coach will come. The other MPs seemed a little taken aback by the crowd, yet amazed at the flower market outside.
4.30 pm: Train missed
Trivedi was telling the railway officials that he wanted to experience travelling in a slow train close to the peak hours and an Andheri-bound slow train arrived just then. The group was scattered and while Trivedi and senior rail officials were standing near the luggage compartment, others were standing in front of the second-class compartment. Thus, there was complete chaos when the train stopped at the platform.
A few of the MPs and railway officials boarded the train, while Trivedi struggled and missed it. Around the same time, he saw an elderly couple managing to board the train with much difficulty. “You cannot blame the passengers if they board like this. There is a need to amend the duration of halts at stations,” said Trivedi.
He also asked railway officials how people identify the location of the coach that is to arrive and differentiate between the types of coaches. “I want the railways to conduct a study on the time of arrival, wait period, the time a train leaves and accidents during this timeframe. We can also look at whether it is possible to increase the duration of halts by a few more seconds,” Trivedi told a WR official at Dadar.
When mid-day asked Trivedi what purpose the study would serve, he said that it would let them understand the density of people using the train system in the city and broadly incorporate it in their report regarding the proposed draft of the Railways (Amendment) Bill. Railway officials, however, told him any increase in halt time at the stations would will result in delays in train services.
They also gave him details like how the halt durations are kept between 20 and 30 seconds depending on the station, how they operate 1,305 services every day and told him that there is a train every three minutes on WR during peak hours and five minutes during non-peak hours.
4.33 pm: Playing catch-up
Trivedi boarded another train and got down at the next station, Matunga Road, where he caught up with the others from the group. He saw that work on increasing the height of the platform was underway and asked them to get it done quickly. The authorities said that, based on the requirements, they are increasing the height of the platform to 900mm at various stations across WR.
When Trivedi asked them why there was such a big gap between the platforms and trains, WR officials explained that the earlier trains had a suspension system wherein the springs were different and the coach’s clearance from the platform would reduce when more people boarded it.
4.43 pm: Fare hike talk
The team caught a Churchgate bound train and got down at Dadar in the rush. They took a walk and looked around the platforms for 10 minutes. “Every day, 10 people die on the tracks here and this is a serious issue. The railways don’t have funds and won’t survive if a fare hike doesn’t happen” said Pushpendra Singh Chandel, MP from Hamirpur in Uttar Pradesh.
4.52pm: Air India comparisons
The rail officials advised the MPs to skip the next train as it was too crowded and then boarded a Churchgate-bound slow train. Trivedi spoke to the railway authorities at length over several issues and had to remain standing until Charni Road station as the second-class compartment was crowded.
“My visit wouldn’t have any implications on the Union Railway Budget. We are looking at the conditions under which the people here travel and will incorporate it in our report that would be presented after the budget,” said Trivedi.
“Railways need to think out of the box for getting more revenue and not just focus on a fare hike. The railways’ situation is already like Air India’s and if the 7th Pay Commission comes in place, then the Indian Railways will be in a total mess. People can survive without Air India, but not without the Indian Railways,” Trivedi told mid-day.
5.20pm: Parting shot
Alighting at platform 1 of Churchgate, Trivedi saw the mismatch in the height of the platform and the train. He pointed it out again to the WR officials. “Under such circumstances, it is not commuters’ fault if they fall into the gap while boarding or alighting,” added Trivedi, before leaving in his vehicle.