India’s urban railway: Backward in modernisation

Kodambakkam Station Road, which leads to the railway station. The blue pipes are for high tech optic fibre television cables. The dark stuff is filth removed from the rain duct, left to dry for days.
Kodambakkam Station Road, which leads to the railway station. The blue pipes are for high tech optic fibre television cables. The dark stuff is filth removed from the rain duct, left to dry for days.

They are the lifeline of the country, but the Indian Railways can be justifiably criticised for remaining in a time warp. The devastating fire on the Gouthami Express which killed so many shows that most trains do not have even the rudimentary warning and communication tools that can alert passengers and the engine crew to what is happening in the middle or tail end. This is sadly the case even though mobile telephones can be used in most parts of the country, and can link head, middle and tail of a train.

Here, I am concerned about the state of the suburban railway in the city of Chennai.

As I have noted in the past, Indian politicians think nothing about sanctioning new projects for urban rail, at great cost to the taxpayer. Chennai has given the green signal for a metro railway that is certain to cross Rs.10,000 crores.

Yet, the lack of intelligence prevailing in the Railway Board prevents the modernisation of the existing urban railway network in the most cost-effective ways. This is all the more surprising, when India has a National Action Plan on climate change, where it would like to give a boost to public transportation.

This photo of a heavy-breathing old woman at Fort Railway Station is representative of this phenomenon. I have always maintained that when shopping malls can afford to put in escalators, the gargantuan railway system with its self-proclaimed efficiency should certainly do better. Why cannot these stations be modernised with bright exteriors, information put up boldly about travel and these punishing staircases be replaced or at least supplemented by escalators? But then, a joker of a Railway Minister may not be able to achieve that kind of modernisation. There is, after all, a vested interest in backwardness for some.

The other irony is that we have a Union Minister of State for Railways, Mr. Velu who belongs to a party that wants to be seen as India’s version of the Greens. But its performance has been so lacklustre, that the Minister has devoted little to nil attention to such travel requirements. What kind of Green party would not do its utmost for Railways and Bus Transport Systems when it given Ministerial opportunity?

The plight of the commuter is even worse outside the station, where lumpen politics and a dysfunctional civic government ensure that obstacles are placed all the way.

This picture says it all.

The price of living in India. An old woman makes the steep climb at Fort Railway Station
The price of living in India. An old woman makes the steep climb at Fort Railway Station

Why are we so gung ho about nuclear deals and high velocity growth, when we cannot handle basic filth in our drains and provide basic facilities to our taxpayers?

Note that you must climb these stairs to buy your ticket first, climb down to the platform level next and if you are changing lines to take the MRTS at Fort, you must cross over and descend on another platform.

It is fine to do all that when you are able bodied, relaxed and want a bit of exercise. Not when you are old, or commuting to work in a hurry.

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