Railway officials attribute such rail mishaps to lack of sufficient trains, timely information and safety features.

Chennai suburban train tragedy Can Railways always call it accident
news Railways Wednesday, July 25, 2018 - 13:03

Four people are dead and several have lost their limbs in Chennai on Tuesday, after people who were hanging out of a crowded suburban train hit a cement and grill fence. The train reached a different platform without intimating the passengers – and those who were hanging on to the footboard did not know that they would hit a barrier.

Eighteen-year-old Murthy was one of the passengers who had to cram himself into the little space available near the footboard. The train was unusually crowded that day due to a 40-minute delay in the train services in the Beach station-Chengalpet route. While four of his fellow commuters lost their lives in the fall, Murthy’s legs, which came under the train’s wheels, had to be amputated.

And when the media questioned South Railway Inspector General Birendra Kumar about the incident, he said, “It was just an unfortunate incident.”

Is it unfortunate? Yes. Is it an accident? Yes. But should the railways simply wash their hands off, instead of holding themselves accountable?

In the aftermath of the tragedy, several questions are being raised about the lack of safety features on local trains – including doors. Questions are also being raised about the number and frequency of trains, and about how serious (or not) the authorities are when it comes to giving correct information to passengers.

Not the first time

Every day, around 11 lakh commuters use the city’s suburban railway service, which is divided into four lines – west line, south line, north line and the Mass Rapid Transit System (MRTS) line.

However, in the last 10 days, nine people have lost their lives in the south line, where the accident occurred on Tuesday morning.

Though this route witness 3 to 3.5 lakh passengers every day, no significant measures have reportedly been taken in the last five years to match the existing number of trains with the growing population of commuters.

The Passengers Amenities Association, a statutory organisation under the Indian Ministry of Railways, assigned to analyse the grievances of passengers, notes that the problem is three-fold:

1. Passengers remain uninformed about the delay in train services.

2. Insufficient trains on the south line despite the rising commuter traffic.

3. Lack of safety features such as doors to prevent such accidents.

Lack of timely information

Train number 40701, which passengers boarded on Tuesday, and other trains on the South Line were delayed by 40 minutes due to a technical error in the signalling system. Commuters, however, received no intimation regarding this and were expecting the usual number of six to eight trains between 7.30 am and 8.30 am in the morning. When the train arrived, passengers made a rush for the train, as they were already late for work and college.

“We cannot stop people from overcrowding the trains because they need to get to their destination or they will be penalised,” says a railway official. “We take assistance from the Railway Police Force and the Government Railway Police Force to stop people from standing on the footboard. But, it is impossible to monitor this all the time,” he adds.

Insufficient trains

While tabling their concern over the low frequency of trains, the Passengers Amenities Association points to the inaction of railway authorities.

"In the last two years, we have held meetings almost every month with the Railway board. The minutes of these meetings will show the umpteen number of times we have brought up the need to introduce more trains on this particular line from the Beach station to Chengalpet. The Railway Minister has received all the pointers from our meeting. But there has been no change in the ground situation,” says an officer from the Association.

Railway authorities, on the other hand, claim that increasing the number of trains is not an overnight task.

Currently, 227 trains run on the route, with fast trains arriving every 20 minutes. Passengers, however, have been demanding its frequency be increased to one every 10 minutes.

When TNM asked a railway authority about the increasing number of fatalities, he resorted to whataboutery, and stated that deaths related to rail accidents are far lesser than road transport.

“The fares are low and so increasing the number of trains cannot be implemented immediately,” he said, adding, “We are doing our best to ensure the safety of passengers.”

More safety features

The Association also says that installing floor-to-ceiling doors is the basic safety measure that can be put in place.

“If the doors are closed before the train departs, it will ensure that the passengers are safe inside. When a metro can have such facilities, why not suburban trains?” points out the Association.

 

 

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