The special bogey on express trains for disabled passengers is far from accessible. A picture of neglect and cut off from the rest of the coaches, making travelling a nightmarish experience

“We have to face a lot of difficulties travelling in this coach as it is not interconnected with the rest of the coaches of the train,” said Harish, who was travelling from Jainagar in Bihar to Amritsar on the special coach for disabled passengers. He added that the coach remained overcrowded throughout the journey as passengers with waiting tickets entered it in large numbers.

After the passage of the Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995, the Railway Ministry added a special coach for disabled passengers in all express trains except in special type of trains like the Rajdhani, Shatabdi and Duronto. In addition to that, some seats were reserved for disabled passengers and 75 per cent concession was given on sleeper class tickets with a free ticket for an escort. 

The Railways have so far designed more than 2,100 of these coaches.

However, a close scrutiny of the ground reality would show that the measures have only maximized the difficulties faced by disabled passengers. Firstly, the special coaches are attached either just behind the engine or sandwiched between the luggage and generator car. Being too distant from the platform, people travelling in these coaches find it difficult to get down from the train and access the main platform to buy food and other necessary items. 

Secondly, being not connected to the other coaches through a vestibule, it leaves the passengers completely isolated. They cannot order food from the pantry car as well. The situation worsens on long-distance journeys. Imagine a disabled person travelling from Delhi to Chennai, which takes nearly three days, with no accessibility to food and water for the major part of the journey. 

Thirdly, there are no separate corridors or paths for people with disabilities to easily reach the bogies which are just too far for them. 

Conditions inside these special coaches are appalling. Berth cushions were found torn, toilets were unclean and stank. And this was not the case of a particular train. New Delhi-Darbhanga Sampark Kranti Expess, Saryu Yamuna Express, Lal Quila Express, Poorva Express, Jammu Tawi-Delhi-Jaisalmer Express, Saharanpur-Delhi passenger, Jind-Delhi-Rohtak passenger — similar conditions prevailed in each of them. 

Many disabled passengers now prefer travelling in normal coaches than the special one. It came to light recently when the special coach for people with disabilities on the Amritsar-Saharsa Garib Rath was found locked. According to the railway staff no disabled person had opted to travel in it. In trains like Poorva Express via Gaya which goes to Howrah, these coaches were withdrawn. 

Having failed to achieve their purpose in other express trains, some of these special coaches are these days attached to Rajdhani Express rakes for railway staff usage. Curiously, these coaches wear a clean look. Two staff found sitting inside a similar coach on the New Delhi-Patna Rajdhani Express said, “This coach has been carved out from another train and we have just put a board of Rajdhani Express on it; this train has no special coach for disabled passengers.”

Despite all this, some people have got used to the unsatisfactory conditions prevailing in these coaches. Girish, who was waiting for his train to Sitamarhi, Bihar, said, “I have seen the same condition in every train in which I have travelled till date, so I can’t imagine anything better.” 

Successive Railway Ministers in their budget speeches have announced various facilities for disabled persons. These include installing escalators and lifts, affixing Braille stickers indicating coach layouts, making coaches wheel-chair friendly and specially-designed toilets, among others. However, most of these promises have remained on paper only.

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