The MRTS seems to be approaching its saturation point on many services through the day, when the six car rakes are suffocatingly overcrowded.
This situation must not be confused with the lack of popularity of the service among many people living in parts of Chepauk, Triplicane, Light House and Greenways Road. Not all trains are full, while some are hopelessly crowded.
While there is no doubt that the popularity of the MRTS will grow in the coming months so far as people in Velachery, Perungudi, Tidel Park, Thiruvanmiyur and Indira Nagar are concerned, the failure to address overcrowding will lead to negative traveller sentiment overall. That is just what public transport in Chennai, and in India, does not need today.
People around the world are aware that the Indian suburban railways and bus transport offer some of the worst travel experiences among commuter systems in the world (we are not talking about the Kolkat and Delhi Metros which are newer systems).
For most of India, one is reminded of Galbraith’s famous observation about our society: private affluence and public squalour.
Our leaders travel by SUVs and plush airconditioned cars. They don’t walk on streets. Even our senior babus don’t walk on the streets, which is why we do not have decent footpaths. It is also clear that the average person can now buy an A/C car without breaking the bank and no longer depends on buses and trains.
What we need therefore is a bus and train system that is comfortable, interconnected, intermodal and affordable. None of these characteristics apply to Chennai’s transport network at the moment. MTC has overpriced its Volvo services in the name of providing comfort, and is otherwise operating obsolete buses for the bulk of commuters. Its conductors are rude and belligerent. Its ticketing system is Victorian.
On the question of MRTS, the six car rakes are crying out for immediate replacement with nine car rakes in all peak services. These rakes must be of the modern design from Siemens, which are being built in Chennai’s ICF for the Mumbai railways and possibly others. Why should Chennai commuters not have the same facility?
These images of commuters waiting in very neglected surroundings in the Fort MRTS station show that Southern Railway is not demonstrably serious about the operation of this rail system.
The statement of the Divisional Railway Manager Mr. Man Singh to The Hindu recently that he was heartened by the crowding in the MRTS (as a sign of patronage) reflects the outdated philosophy that guides our railway administration. In London, if the DRM had made a similar statement, he would have been sacked.
In India, apparently, crowding is a sign of success. This is just the sort of sentiment that keeps people away from public transport. We at SU condemn it and demand that the Southern Railway start its modernisation with its mindset. It must respond to commuter demand with longer, more frequent trains.
Also, I would urge that passengers who find something wrong with the facilities at the railway station can enter their complaint in the complaint book available with the ticket clerk or station master. This is the best way to put your issue on the record. The Railways being a British-designed system, still have some systems and processes that work. A complaints book is one of them.
There is the alternative of filing a petition under the Right to Information Act, 2005, to the Public Information Officer for the Chennai Divsion of Southern Railway.