Chennai's 'Elphinstone': Tragedy waiting to play out at Guindy railway station

The sight is eerily similar to what happened in Mumbai before tragedy struck: Hundreds of commuters hurriedly get on to the railway platform and rush to the stairway.
Chennai's 'Elphinstone': Tragedy waiting to play out at Guindy railway station
Chennai's 'Elphinstone': Tragedy waiting to play out at Guindy railway station

It is 8.45 am on a weekday in Chennai and a train slows down to a halt at a crowded stop. Even before train stops, the screeching noise of the brakes is overpowered by the sound of hundreds of commuters hurriedly getting on to the railway platform, and then making a dash for the first stairway they can find.

Young men shove their way through the crowd as older women struggle to keep their feet on the ground, enduring the daily trauma with clenched teeth. They all want to find a way out of the Guindy rail station as soon as possible. But even the short sprint is not enough to evade the logjam that everyone is bound to become a part of – there simply isn’t enough space for everyone to walk out peacefully.

Jostling with one and other in the crowd and unable to move an inch, these passengers fill all six stairways leading to the foot over bridge, even as incoming trains add to the chaos. The sea of bodies presents a sight that takes your mind to the Elphinstone station stampede that Mumbai is yet to recover from.

On September 29, 23 people were killed in the busy railway station in India’s financial capital, after an impatient crowd, heavy rains and jammed staircases led to a deadly stampede.

Guindy is another Elphinstone waiting to happen, and even the authorities and passengers don’t deny that.

With a footfall of over 25,000 people every day, the Guindy station is one of the busiest in Chennai. On any day, 200 trains arrive at its platforms, and it connects commuters to a nearby metro station, several bus stops and hundreds of places of work.

And yet, its infrastructure has not been upgraded for decades. Neither has the foot over bridge been expanded nor has an additional exit been provided to the growing number of passengers.

"The Guindy station is a disaster waiting to happen," admits a railway official at the station. "If a stampede such as that in Mumbai were to occur, the consequences will be horrific," he adds.

According to the railway employees who man the station, passengers have filed multiple complaints in the past in connection to the lack of infrastructure, despite the increase in footfall. "The Railways ministry replies saying that they will take the necessary steps but nothing ever happens," says the official. "In fact, there is one proposal to construct a path from this station to the adjacent metro station to ease the traffic, but there has been no progress in the matter," he adds.

Passengers, meanwhile, lament over the time they lose just making it to the exit. "I take this train to work every day and it is terrible during the peak hours. When more than one train comes to the platform, there is no way to even get out," says Sindhu, a resident of Guindy. "It takes at least 15 minutes to actually leave the station," she adds.

Most of them are even aware of the danger the lack of space creates. "We all know what happened in Mumbai and that it could repeat here," says Rajesh, a techie, who travels to Guindy for work. "I don't know how much longer we can avert an untoward incident," he says.

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