CHENNAI: Sunday’s incident, where a Coast Guard staff travelling by Howrah Mail from Kolkata to Chennai was robbed by a group of youth between Korukkupet and Basin Bridge in North Chennai, showed that anti-socials were aware that trains slow down or stop in that area, a challenge that stares Railways in its face every day.
Government Railway Police (GRP) and Railway Protection Force (RPF) officials probing the case said the area was a hotbed for on-train petty crimes such as cellphone stealing, chain snatching.
“Every month around 15-20 such cases are reported, while many go unreported as people don’t register. The point of entry is around the ‘iron gate’ where trains slow down or stop for want of a green signal,” said a GRP official.
Officials as well as locals in Korukkupet say the densely populated slum areas in and around the stretch is a breeding ground and offer an escape route for robbers, usually unemployed youth.
Most of these incidents take place in darkness before sunrise and after sunset when long distance passenger trains like Sunday’s Howrah Mail approach Chennai Central at a snail’s pace.
“The crimes can be prevented if trains zip through to Central without stopping as it won’t give a chance to the robbers to hop on to the train,” said another senior GRP official.
This is easier said than done. Korukkupet falls on the Basin Bridge-Gummidipoondi stretch which is over-saturated. Only two lines are available which cater to the heavily industrialised North Chennai, a suburban train service which is the lifeline for lakhs and an equally in-demand passenger train service.
All the trains to eastern and northern parts of India like Kolkata, Delhi, Gujarat, have to go through this stretch. Southern Railway sources say the over-utilisation of the line capacity on this route is 200 per cent.
It means that the tracks handle double the number of trains on this route than they were built for. The priority in most cases, the sources say, is goods trains, passenger trains and suburban trains in that order, as freight earns revenue for Indian Railways to cross-subsidise passenger fares.
Central, a terminal station, is also over-saturated and many trains have to wait far away for want of a free platform.
“Goods trains mostly run early mornings and late nights. As a result passenger trains arriving at Central fail to get continuous green signals and have to stop or slow down near Basin Bridge or Korukkupet, which is well known to local thieves,” security and railway officials said.
Suburban services are worst hit with most trains delayed by at least 30-45 minutes every day. This was evident when Express visited the spot on Monday, with even local school children clearly explaining the chain reaction of the signal issue-robbery.
This issue can only be solved by increasing the lines or building an exclusive line for freight trains as on the Chennai-Arakkonam stretch.
“Though work has begun, the progress is slow and the problem too urgent,” the official added.
As indicated by a senior RPF official, Southern Railways has built a boundary wall in betwen the tracks and settlements on the stretch and have also increased on-train security. But as this reporter discovered, there are several openings on this wall through which a lean person can easily squeeze through.
“We can take up combing operations in the area or add more security on trains. However prevention is better than cure and this is something the Railway officials must take up seriously, if they want to prevent crime,” said a GRP official.