Why can't railways keep us informed?

Apr 19, 2012, 09:15 IST | Shashank Rao

A fire at midnight near Kurla station led to signal failure on CR, but authorities chose to let lakhs of baffled commuters wait endlessly at platforms instead of making clear announcements

If you stepped into a Central Railway station yesterday, you saw an uneasy crowd, enormous in number and short of temper, waiting at the platforms. The LED displays showing train arrivals were frozen at zero. Except for a staccato announcement about indefinite delays due to a technical problem, little else was communicated to this mass of people, waiting to go to work.

Waiting for eternity: People kept waiting at stations, but in vain. Pic/Suresh KK

Mumbai off track
12.05 am
The signaling panel room next to Kurla station caught fire  
Approximate number of trains on CR that were cancelled (30% of total)
Early on Wednesday, the first set of office goers were left wondering about the sudden disappearance of local trains from tracks for tens of minutes together, which is unusual in the morning. The constant craning of necks, shifting of eyes, and shuffling on feet conveyed their impatience. There were still no announcements, especially at smaller stations on both Main and Harbour lines. They had not an inkling of the problem awaiting them. The wait seemed endless. 

Behind time: Trains on Central Railway ran with a delay of over 45 minutes. Pic/Sameer Markande

Geeta Ajith, a college professor, who boards from Chembur station said, “Our wait at the station seemed like ages, without any indication or announcements from the railway authorities about the situation. Finally, around 9 am, announcements were made that trains would not be running. So commuters spilled out of the station, where there was a new struggle to find a rickshaw or bus. In the end, I did manage to reach my destination, over than three hours late.”

‘Get me out of here'
Lakhs like her have a similar tale to tell. More than the wait, it was the chockfull coaches that left commuters sweating and cursing. When one did manage to ram one’s way into a stuffed train — merely ganging on or stuck immovably between two people — the train didn’t budge. For long spans. The humid heat made it fustier than it was. Many got peeved, got down onto the tracks and began walking to the nearest station. Some came out on the road to escape the gruelling heat.

Only later did they come to know that services had been crippled due to a late night fire breakout in the signal panel at Kurla-Vidyavihar. By now, at different stations, furious commuters were at the stationmaster’s cabin, demanding an averment, a hint, some explanation. Sources said that announcements started way before 7 am at major stations — they spoke of a technical glitch at Kurla signal panel. “The announcements were definitely happening at stations,” claimed chief PRO of Central Railway, V Malegaonkar. What about inside the trains? “I caught a train from Thane at 11.30 am and reached Bhandup around 3 pm.

There were no announcements inside the coaches and we were clueless about the situation,” said Sushant Pawar, on his way to CST. The situation north of Kurla was a horror. Commuters preferred climbing on train tops or swinging by windows, holding the edge of the roof, to trying to venture in. Around 9 am, CST station bore an eerie silence, when there would be noisy activity on a regular day. At Harbour and Central main lines, there were no trains, nor commuters at stations. Sources said that due to the fire, officials had to defer running fast trains in either direction. 

In the morning hours, train services were running late by over an hour. The lag tapered to 45 minutes at high noon. People were seen sitting on diesel engines and hanging on the footboard of long-distance trains. People were seen offering bottled water to commuters travelling in the train. The stations continued to remain packed in the hope of resumption. Roads were unable to take the load of the public leaving the ‘lifeline’ and taking buses, taxis or auto rickshaws. After noon, the Eastern Express Highway and LBS Marg saw bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Field day for autos
The taxi and auto drivers were at their best, overcharging commuters and handpicking fares. “The auto driver demanded Rs 70 in a share rickshaw from Bandra to Kurla, stating that there was too much traffic. However, I reached in less than Rs 50 after catching an empty rickshaw further ahead,” said B Singh, a commuter. Every day CR runs 1,576 train services. By 2 pm, the CR managed to run 56 per cent of this. By the end of the day, they were to operate 70 per cent. Tomorrow, the authorities claim to be ready to run at least 85 per cent services, as the signaling system on Kurla-Vidyavihar section is slowly being resuscitated. “It will take at least three days for complete restoration,” said Subodh Jain, general manager, CR. People with train passes will be allowed to travel on the Western Railway and on long-distance trains that will halt between Kasara/Karjat/Kalyan sections. 


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