I travelled the other day in the Lal Bagh Express from Chennai to Jolarpet. The carriages were newly designed with individual pushback seats and fitted with sliding glass windows. The fans too were tilted to reach all the passengers in a row. So far so good. Now comes the googly.
The individual seats were totally six instead of the customary five and the central door was eliminated on both sides. As a result of the crammed increased seating, the central passage has become narrow like a single file tunnel. It is impossible for boarding and detraining passengers to pass each other without an embarrassing tight squeezing and encroaching on the bodies of the aisle seated passengers on either side. Is this an extra amenity for a warm-up in the cold season? Recently I found the same type of new coaches in the Parasuram Express in Kerala. It is an innovation that takes one step forward and two steps backward.
To add to your travelling woes, in spite of being a reserved carriage unreserved passengers jam the narrow passage. Since bus fares are higher than train fares on account of high diesel cost short distance habitual bus passengers take the train and crowd the narrow passage. Since trains run on electric power the running cost per kilometre is much less than that of buses.
The railways do nothing effective to check unreserved passengers with the result that travel in reserved carriages is no better than in unreserved carriages. In the earlier disciplined days of rail travel unauthorized travellers would be fined or chased out. The TTEs should either collect an additional charge from the standing passengers and drastically restrict their number, or call the railway police and clear the unauthorized passengers. Otherwise, the harried authorized passengers will be forced to travel in the costly a/c trains; which perhaps is the hidden agenda of the railways. Why else would they withdraw the a/c coaches from the Brindavan Express when they introduced the full a/c Double Decker train apart from removing its pantry car?
I do not know if the railways have any prejudice against the Brindavan Express running between Chennai and Bangalore. In the 1960s, it was the most prestigious train of the Southern Railway and took much less time than today for the trip, just over five hours. Today it has become like a crowded city bus with reserved and unreserved passengers all packed tight like sardines. If at all any TTEs appear on this train they only check the tickets of reserved passengers and then disappear before the milling entraining crowds seal off their exit. Perhaps half this milling crowd may not even have bought a rail ticket. If you have to detrain en route, you will have to needle your way through the crowd amidst groans, frowns and sour looks. Well, if ladies can have free ride on Delhi metro why not the toiling and moiling masses down south as well? Will the Supreme Court rule out gender discrimination only at temples and churches and not in the poor man’s national carrier, the Indian Railways?
Moreover, I was also shocked to see that newly designed a/c coaches in the same Lal Bagh Express had 5 seats in a row instead of the classic 4 of 2 plus 2 with the passage in between. It is just like the crammed 5 seater row of the Double Decker Chennai Bangalore train. Perhaps, a harbinger of more squeezing measures in the pipeline? A squeeze on your body in addition to the squeeze on your wallet in recurring rail fares increase?
It is hoped the railways retain essential basic features like wide passages, adequate exits and proper seat measurements rather than indulge in pushback seat gimmicks which any way break down fast. The quality of the seat cover rexin also is in doubt as they look cheap and are likely to peel off under strain from the squeezing passengers as they pass each other in a highly narrow passage. The quickly non-functional adjustable plastic footrest and weak reclining seat adjusting lever are symbols of both progress and regress combined in a clumsy combination.
Perhaps, a coat of glossy modern paint over poor tinkering workmanship!(Published on 17th February 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 08)