VELLORE/RANIPET: Amid overcrowded trains and cramped compartments, passengers urged the Southern Railways to restore the pre-pandemic services between Arakkonam and Vellore Cantonment / Katpadi and Arakkonam and Chennai. These trains had been stopped during Covid-19.
"There is no place here to stand or keep our luggage. Whenever a passenger entrains or detrains, they squeeze through us," said a senior citizen travelling on the footboard. This also raises the risk of Covid-19 infection, as the caseload surges across the country.
Thousands of passengers-- including students, education and bank staff, ex-servicemen on the security duty and farmers, commute in the Chennai- Arakkonam - Katpadi - Jolarpet route. They urge the Railways to restart the MEMU (Mainline Electric Multiple Unit) trains and unreserved passenger trains.
MEMU trains between Arakkonam and Vellore Cantonment will help several people, said M Ashok Kumar who works in a private institution in Vellore. "There were no morning trains from Arakkonam. Either you have to get on early morning trains or the late ones. A train from 6 - 6.30 am would be perfect. Earlier, two trains were operated during the peak hours which was convenient for regular commuters," he added.
D Babu who has been commuting on the Chennai- Arakkonam route for more than 35 years said the passenger trains from Bengaluru to Chennai could have stoppages at Avadi and other important stations in between, to avoid overcrowding. "The people will take different trains and the crowding will be reduced. Avadi is a major junction and people can reach various areas in Chennai if they get down there. The station and the platforms at small stations were upgraded in 2016 for more passengers, but the trains were not stopped," he said.
Currently, only two trains stop in Avadi. Passengers have to take suburban trains to reach their destinations. They complained trains were not punctual and some trains were stopped midway for 15 minutes, citing signal issues. "There are few trains in the afternoon so that all the passengers are consolidated at the same time. This could be avoided if more trains are operated at this time," Babu added.
Meanwhile, residents of hundreds of villages surrounding small stations from Arakkonam to Jolarpet like Sitheri, Anvarthikanpet, Mahendravadi, Sholingur, Walaja Road and Tiruvalam suffer as their areas lack rail transport, after the pandemic. "Many places here are not connected with bus service; trains are their sole lifeline. Students and patients who seek treatment in cities suffer due to this," Naina Masilamani, President of the Arakkonam Rail Passengers Sangam told TNIE.
"We have repeatedly sent our demands to restart the passenger train services in the route but Railways only operates Express trains which will not be stopped in the small stations. Strangely, the Railways are not thinking about the welfare of the rural areas," he said.
Responding to TNIE's query, a Railway official said that unreserved passenger Expresses have not fully commenced after the pandemic. While the Mail and Express trains were restored up to 96%, unreserved trains were introduced in a phased manner which is around 50% at present (150 trains), the official added.