Nightmare on bedbug express

46 passengers who boarded the AC 2-tier compartment of Thiruvananthapuram-Mumbai Netravati Express on Sunday were left at the mercy of an army of bloodsuckers
Vampire fiction may be all the rage, but the true bloodsuckers that emerge after twilight are far less charismatic, and far more relentless.

'Pest'ered: The bedbugs that swarmed the curtains in the compartment
gave Kartik Shah and his co-passengers a sleepless night.

No one will testify to this truth more fiercely than the 46 passengers who were pitted against a relentless army of bedbugs when they boarded the AC 2-tier compartment of the Netravati Express -- from Thiruvananthapuram to Mumbai -- on Sunday. And then the nightmare began.

It sucks!
Versova residents Kartik Shah (33) and his wife Nirali (28), spoke to MiD DAY about the harrowing experience on board the train. They boarded the coach from the Kayamkulam railway station, not knowing what lay in store. The creepy-crawlies ventured out at 3 pm.

Kartik said, "As soon as dusk fell, we switched on the lights. We were shocked to see dozens of bedbugs swarming the curtains. Gradually, all the occupants started feeling itchy sores swell up. We complained to the coach attendant, but he turned a deaf ear to our pleas. We went to sleep a few hours later, but the bugs started crawling all over our sheets. A young couple even spotted that the bugs had crawled into their baby's bed cloth."

Refusing to take the matter lying down, the passengers dismounted at Madgaon, Goa, at 5 am, and complained at the station. "No action was taken, yet again. Chaos reigned inside the compartment. We even summoned Balakrishnan, the ticket checker on-board. He said that a request had been made to railway officials at Thiruvananthapuram station, to not attach the coach to the express, but no one bothered," said Kartik.

By 11.30 pm, inflamed passengers decided to pull the train's chain, minutes before it would roll into Mangalore station. They then demanded that the station superintendent be summoned and the coach changed. At Mangalore, Station Superintendent Carol Santosh apologised feebly, saying that changing coaches was not a feasible option.

After several complaints, a Railways official came to inspect the bug-
infested compartment, which had given passengers big, itchy welts.
Pics/Sayed Sameer Abedi

Twice bitten
By this time, a passenger from the adjacent two-tier AC coach emerged, begging for medical treatment, as her hands were swollen from the repeated assault of the pests. She too, was returned to her coach, along with mumbled apologies.

What ensued was a sleepless night, spent tossing and turning, in the throes of discomfort.

"The attendants only offered to spray disinfectants in the coach, but cautioned in the same breath that it would make breathing difficult for us, as it was an AC coach. Since there were children and infants travelling with us, we decided against it, and spent a night of utter agony," said an aggrieved Nirali.

Passenger V K Sukumaran, a retired railway section engineer said, "It's disappointing that the trains are kept in this condition nowadays. If this is the condition of a two-tier AC coach, God save the passengers travelling in sleeper class. It is the responsibility of the railways to clean the coaches before they are sent to the platform. The large numbers of pests is clear indication of the fact that hygiene was not maintained."

P G Shankaram (69), a retired professor, added,  "The bugs have travelled to Mumbai with us:  they are all over our luggage and belongings. How are we going to enter our homes? We just travelled through hell."

Rats too?
To add to their shock, Kartik and Nirali found messages left behind by previous passengers, warning them that they had seen dead rats in the coach. "We decided not to take any food from the kitchen," said Kartik.

Home at last
At 5 pm yesterday, the bedbug express rolled into the Kurla Terminus, to a few railway officials and waiting pest control attendants. The railway officials found several parasites.

A railway official admitted, "The coach is badly infested. The onus lies with the Southern railways, who should inspect the coaches before departure. We will detach it from the train, and take pest control measures. The situation will be monitored, and if we are satisfied, we will put the train back on track after a day's interval."

Chief Public Relations Officer, Central Railway (CR) M V Malegaonkar said, "The work of cleaning, fumigating the coach lies with the Southern Railway, from where the train departed." He added that he would bring the matter to the notice of railway officials only after he received a complaint from the passengers.

What can you do
>> Lodge a complaint with the ticket checker in the train 
>> Inform the cleaners, who should be carrying a complaint book where you can file your grievance. 
>> Inform the concerned railway division, to which the train belongs.  
>> Locate the helpline numbers written at the entrance of every cabin. If the train is looked after by WR, send an SMS to 9004477777. For CR, message 9004411111.

Rat attack in Rajdhani Express
MiD DAY had reported in June 2010 how passengers of the Ahmedabad-Delhi Rajdhani Express battled mice, mosquitoes on the train, even as staff refused to tend to the problem ('Dead rats in Rajdhani,' June 29).

A few inebriated train attendants and a hapless ticket checker left the 75 harried passengers to defend themselves against the population of rats. Left to their own means, and with the generous help of the TTE Rajesh Gupta, the commuters themselves caught six live rats with the help of a trap.

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