As crowds surge on locals, BMC to stagger office timings

Updated: Jul 06, 2020, 18:19 IST | Rajendra B Aklekar | Mumbai

Western Railways says the decision comes after essential workers raised concerns over risky on-board conditions

A crowded train on the Western Railway at 6.29 am on July 2
A crowded train on the Western Railway at 6.29 am on July 2

As feedback from government employees travelling on Mumbai's 700 suburban trains reveals that there is concern and displeasure over lack of social distancing inside the trains, Western Railway (WR) officials told mid-day that the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has agreed to stagger office timings and was working on a proposal expected to be taken ahead this week. Crowds are being witnessed, especially in the trains coming from the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) beyond Kalyan and Virar due to limited services and halts.

Commuters said that the crowding that is being quietly ignored now may swell into something bigger in the coming days.

Experts have reiterated that the solution is well within the government's hands as all commuters are government employees and they should give serious attention to staggering shift timings so that crowds do not travel in hordes at one time. Interestingly, the MMR has been seeing an increasing number of COVID-19 cases.

Passengers say that while things are organised at stations, social distancing is forgotten inside trains
Passengers say that while things are organised at stations, social distancing is forgotten inside trains

"After extensive discussions, the BMC has agreed to stagger office timings and is working on the plan. It will soon be in effect. This will ease the load on the trains," WR's Mumbai Central Divisional Railway Manager, GVL Satya Kumar told Mid-Day.

Schedule change confusing
Complaining commuters said that while it is very well-managed at stations and premises, social distancing goes for a toss inside trains. "On Central Railway (CR), for example, the frequency of trains is less to Karjat/Kasara and to Dahanu on WR.

Also, trains do not halt at all the stations there. This leads to the issue of frequency as everyone needs to reach office at the same time in the morning and return at the same time in the evening," general secretary of Federation of Suburban Railway Passengers' Association, Lata Argade said. She has also shot off a letter to the Maharashtra and central government.

Passengers say that while things are organised at stations, social distancing is forgotten inside trains

"From July 1, 2020, WR has made unexpected changes in the new schedule. Due to the cancellation of a train that leaves Dahanu at 4.55 am, workers providing essential services in Mumbai in the morning shift cannot reach on time. The trains should be scheduled as per the duty timings of municipal employees," said Hemangi Gharat, from Palghar, who is a nurse at a BMC hospital.

Commuter activist Himanshu Vartak said there is still no clarity on who can and can't travel and a lot of sectors, government employees are in the grey area.

"At the ground level, the picture is different. At every station, the list of those allowed seems to vary as per the knowledge of the constable or ticket checker. The railways have issued a standard list, but there are too many nitty-gritty involved and many who have been left undefined. This leads to arguments and fights. The government should stagger the office timings," he said.

CR officials said that they have analysed the data of train travel. "Not more than 700 passengers travel in a train on the main line or harbour line at any point of time. Maximum boarding has happened between 6 am and 8 am at stations beyond Kalyan (i.e. Ambernath, Badlapur, Karjat, Titwala, Kasara etc) and from 8 am to 10 am at stations before Kalyan (i.e. Dombivali, Thane, Kurla, Dadar, etc). We have added 150 more services to the existing network, bringing the total to 350 from July 1. Out of these services, maximum are on mainline. Keeping in mind the office timings, we run more trains during peak hours. At stations, we have taken various measures like queue formation, entry for valid ticket holder, floor markings to ensure social distancing. Staggering office timings will ease the burden on public transport and also make a ground for the new normal in Mumbai," CR's chief public relations officer Shivaji Sutar said.

150 No. of services added by Central Railway on July 1 to accommodate the large number of essential services workers

700 Total no. of trains running in Mumbai

350 No. of trains being run by the CR on its network

Commuter speak

Raj Kumar Chainani (name changed), Ulhasnagar
'I go to Fort for work. Earlier, trains would not halt at Ulhasnagar and we would have to go to Kalyan. A handful of trains have started alternatively at Vithalwadi and Ulhasnagar but the time gap between the two is huge and leads to more crowds. If we miss a train with a halt at our destination, we get delayed by two hours or more'

Hemant Mahajan, Titwala
'The north-east local must stop at all stations till Titwala. Every single day, there are about 1,000-2,000 government servants coming from the stations between Kasara and Titwala'

Himanshu Vartak, commuter activist
'The condition of commuters between Virar and Dahanu is worse, trains are packed just like pre-lockdown days with no social distancing and no protocols'

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