CHENNAI: The abstract concept of ‘world class’ has found neither traction nor understanding at the hands of our officialdom over the decades. Past attempts at making our railway stations ‘world class’ and our trains better, have been undone by the simplest of problems, such as incorrect or insufficient staffing out just the sheer volume of passengers which could place a strain on any transportation system around the world. These problems are yet again set to pose trouble to the ground-level railway staff in their bid for ‘world class’.
Being one of the largest employers of people in the world, it would sound ludicrous to say the Railways is unable to attain ‘world class’ because of a manpower shortage. But it is less a problem of numbers than of not having the right kind of people.
“All departments are short on staff. There is a need to recruit more workers and reduce the number of officers,” says a Railway official. This is a fundamental problem that stretches right from the highest levels of the staff running the station to the lowest levels of this eco-system.
Given all things, the gulf that needs to be bridged is huge, and passengers are convinced that Chennai Central has a long way to go before being comparable to cleaner stations, like Secunderabad or Hyderabad, let alone airports.
While passengers are a significant however, they not publicised as part of the problem. “Our people need to know how to use these stations in a proper manner,” says former Southern Railways General Manager, Thomas Varghese.
For instance, an attempt to restrict and regulate the number of people on a particular platform in the early 2000s met with stiff resistance from a large number of people claiming they were accompanying children or elders, or worse still, VIPs. Needless to say, the attempt was buried.
Any attempt to compare railway stations with airports are unfair, according to officials. The station sees a whopping four lakh travellers passing through each day, which is magnitudes of difficulty over the Chennai Airport, which sees footfalls of about 27,000 a day.
Such a massive throng would render the strain of numbers on any ‘world class’ service, right from something as simple as Wi-Fi. Imagine having 20,000 people connected to the same network, all trying to make the most of the free service.
Yet another area where railway stations significantly fall behind airports is signage.
Boards giving clear directions to utilities and services at railway stations are as rare as clean toilets on sleeper coaches. Proper signage would also help segregate entrance and exit points, lending better flow around the station, according to a security officer.
Chennai Central Foot OverBridge Gathering Dust
In a predicted outcome, the foot over bridge opposite to Chennai Central has few users as pedestrians prefer to walk across the barricades, at great risk to their lives. CE had earlier reported on why the steel structure would find few takers as pedestrians found the task of climbing steps to get across too taxing. Just a few days after it was thrown open for public use, the foot over bridge continues to provide a great aerial view for observant public who wish to catch the action below, as groups of pedestrians walk about among incoming buses to the Chennai Central bus stop, and shielding themselves from being run over by the occasional auto-rickshaw driver.
Water, Food and Loos
Tackling the Toilets
For a station which sees a footfall of over 4 lakh passengers per day, the Chennai Central has only 15 to 20 urinals and an equal number of latrines. What’s more a charge of `2 is levied by a private contractor on these ‘Pay and Use toilets’, something that Bengaluru-based instrumentation engineer V Rajesh finds totally ridiculous. “If there is talk of maintaining railway stations on the lines of airports, how can you charge money for public toilet facility?”
Bottled Water Preferred to Cooler
Right opposite the Jan Aahar railway canteen inside Chennai Central, there are two taps for drinking water supplied from a cooler-cum-purifier protected by a metal enclosure. The facility stands unused, as even the lower middle class passengers prefer to buy a bottle of Rail Neer, priced at `15, from the Jan Aahar. “We never know if there actually is a purifier or filter in that system or how well it is maintained. Why take a risk by drinking that water,” asks S Gokhale, a customer at the canteen.
‘Better Food Across the Road’
The staff at the canteen candidly admits that the food provided is not of a very high quality, but is preferred as it is served hot and at a nominal price. “There are branded food outlets inside the station complex, but food is costly,” said S Gokhale.
Naimul Haque, a 38-year-old mason waiting to board a train to Kerala, says that he can source better quality food at cheaper rate just across the road compared to that provided inside the station premises.
Security Personnel Count
Government Railway Police (GRP) 70 (Sanctioned strength 135)
Two teams of special police 2X 70 = 140
Railway Police Force (RPF) 25-30 including bomb squad, commandos and special force.