Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Ignorant and Incomplete Reporting of Train Services on the Central Line

The following is a part of the long post posted below. I thought that it was important enough to be culled out and posted separately.

Tuesday, August 2, 2005
A brave friend took a rickshaw to Kalyan (there are still no trains from Kalyan towards Karjat) and tried to get to Mumbai to his office. It took the train over an hour to reach Thane (normally it takes less than 30 minutes) and another hour to reach Dadar. And he cursed the media for faulty reporting. "The way they are going about trains between Kalyan and Thane as if they are running normal. There's a train only every 30-40 minutes and it is totally packed. I barely managed to get down at Dadar. It is only the fast tracks that are working and you can make out that the ballast has been swept away and not restored yet. The slow track is in a mess. There are large areas of tracks where you can see only the rails and nothing else. It is dangerous." He started around 5.00 PM and after an harrowing journey (hanging in the doorway with his fingertips all the way from Dadar to Kalyan) reached Ambernath around 10.30 in the night.

Wednesday, August 3, 2005
A news channel announced that rail links had been restored between Ambernath and Kalyan and that trains were now running up to Karjat. The same friend who had traveled yesterday called around 11.30 am to say he had reached Dadar. He had got into a train which had come from Karjat around 8.00 am. It took 40 minutes to cover the distance between Ambernath and Kalyan -- normally it takes about 15 minutes. The track still has no ballast in many areas. The journey between Kalyan and Thane was as harrowing as yesterday and the journey to Dadar was no better.

I went to the station in the evening around 6.30 PM to inquire about the trains for tomorrow. Only four trains had been sent to Karjat through the day and four had been sent towards Mumbai. The official very apologetically said that only one more train was expected today and he had no idea when it would come. A train had been sent down to Karjat half and hour back. The same was expected to return after sometime and go to Mumbai. And again he had no idea when that would be.

"What about tomorrow?" asked a lady. "We have been asked to start as many services as possible. I think we can manage about 10 trains tomorrow."


"No idea. You come to the station and wait."

Meanwhile there are reports that a frustrated mob resorted to stone throwing and blocking of the only operational fast track in Mumbra and Dombivli. Unconfirmed rumors say that a section of the fast track was damaged by the protesters. Somebody from the railways said on a TV channel that the slow track between Thane and Dombivli was now operational.

My friend who had braved the journey in the morning started back "early" at 5.00 PM again today. He reached Kalyan at around 8.15pm and then took a rickshaw (40 Rs, this time) to Ambernath. He was home by 9.00. Interestingly he called to say that the train took the slow track between Thane and Dombivli -- and that the journey was very harrowing. "We could make out even in the fading light that there was no or little ballast below the tracks in many areas. Every time the train made a horrible noise we all wondered if this was it, the train has finally gone off-track. Soon the atmosphere was filled with nervous jokes and we wondered if the railway was using us as guinea pigs to test the track. I was relieved when I got off at Kalyan. A karjat train was announced -- but I had no clue if it would arrive in the next 15 minutes or an hour and I felt I was safer on the road then in the train."

I really wonder if the trains and tracks are safe. Normally, at peak hours, nearly three thousand (or is it five thousand?) people cram themselves in a train meant to carry a little over 1500. And that's when there's a train every four minutes. Now trains are running every 30 minutes or so. The situation must be infinitely worse. It is just that people have no alternative means of transport. I wonder how many people from the lakhs that travel from Kalyan and beyond (Karjat and Kasara) managed to get to their offices in the past few days. Train services haven't even started between Kalyan and Kasara. Here's a thought: While developing (and implementing) a plan for Mumbai a thought will have to be given to these areas as well (Kalyan-Kasara, Kalyan-Karjat). They provide a substantial workforce to the offices in Mumbai and it's bad for the people and the business if they can't get to their offices for over a week or are worried about their safety while traveling.

What plans for me tomorrow? I called my colleague in Badlapur and at the moment we have decided to make an attempt to get to the office tomorrow. I have decided to go to the station at 7.30 am, my usual time, and then see how it goes. If a train comes and I can get into it, I will give it a try. Hope I can alight at my station and then make it back home later in the day. However if the train is too crowded and it looks like it is going to be a mighty struggle to make it to the office, I am chickening out and coming back home.

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