Kerala train commuters decry overcrowding as Railways prioritize premium services

Reducing the number of general compartments to facilitate more AC and sleeper coaches has left many high and dry.
Image used for representational purposes only.
Image used for representational purposes only.File Photo | PTI

KOCHI: There seems to be no end in sight to the woes of train travellers in the state. People who depend upon trains, not only their daily commute but also long-distance travel, are venting their anger at the railways’ strategy of introducing more and more premium trains like the Vande Bharat as a money-spinning measure.

Reducing the number of general compartments to facilitate more AC and sleeper coaches has left many high and dry.

Describing his experience during a recent journey on the Kochuveli-Mysuru Express, Liyons J, secretary of Friends On Rails, which describes itself as a WhatsApp network that aids train commuters, said, “The sleeper compartment resembled a refugee camp. Even the aisles were taken over by passengers with general tickets. This is happening because of the cut in the number of general compartments on long-distance trains,” he adds.

Train travel has become a dangerous affair, points out Dr Meera, a Kozhikode resident who depends on trains for her frequent travels to her hometown in Kollam.

“People are even forced to travel hanging from doors. There have been many cases of passengers getting seriously injured or losing their lives after falling from running trains. But all this goes unreported,” she says.

According to Dr Meera, there have been times when she has cancelled trips after arriving at the station to find general compartments jam-packed. “I have to ensure the safety of my child, who is part of most of my travels,” she stresses.

“Of course, none of the passengers are against the rail transporter’s need to increase revenue, says Srijith T J, an officer with Kerala Agro Industries Corp Ltd. “But that should not be at the cost of passengers, who are the ones filling its coffers.”

Srijith points out that when the railways changed old coaches for new LHB ones, it reduced the number of general compartments from two to one and four to two on many express trains.

“However, they increased the number of AC coaches from three or four to eight while reducing the sleeper coaches from 12 to 8. Now, the situation is such that it is tough to get a reservation even in sleeper coaches,” he adds.

Passengers also point to another of the railways’ money-making strategies.

“Tickets for sleeper coaches are sold right up to the arrival of trains. It should be noted that these tickets do not ensure seats as charts have already been prepared. But once these passengers get on the train they encroach on seats of those who had made reservations months’ back,” says Ramesh Mathew, a frequent traveller.

The removal of de-reserved facility has also hit daily commuters hard.

According to Ramesh, the most congested long-distance trains are the ones plying the northeastern routes.

“Regular users have now ditched them. Migrant labourers don’t bother with the reserved status of coaches. For them, it is fine to travel in any compartment,” he says, adding that there is a dire need for operating more Antyodaya Express trains on the eastern region via Chennai or through Vizag, Berhampur and Howrah.”

Ease and low cost attracted many passenger to train travel. However, there has been no concurrent increase in the number of trains or coaches.

“If more MEMU trains are introduced from Ernakulam to Kollam via Kottayam or Alappuzha, KSRTC will fold up in no time,” says Ramesh.

"Ernakulam-Thrissur is the busiest sector in Kerala. But there are not many passenger trains on the route. Malabar passengers complain about the lack of trains between Shoranur and Kannur in the afternoons. Their complaints are genuine. There are fewer afternoons trains for daily and short-distance passengers,” he added.

However, railway officials say that there is an adequate number of trains for passengers, with special services introduced, whenever necessary.

“Three new special trains have started service towards the northern parts of the country,” an official added.

Summer specials Southern Railway will operate 239 trips of special trains on 19 routes to clear the extra rush this summer. These trains will link Tamil Nadu and Kerala to state like Karnataka, Rajasthan, Bihar, New Delhi, West Bengal, Gujarat, etc.

The trains are:

06083 & 06084 Kochuveli-SMVT Bengaluru

06043 & 06044 Dr MGR Chennai Central-Kochuveli

06081 & 06082 Kochuveli-Shalimar

06071 & 06072 Kochuveli-Nizamuddin

06085 & 06086 Ernakulam-Patna

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