The suburban train services have been catering for different pockets in the city and its suburbs for nearly a century. Though passenger volume on the suburban network has grown from seven lakh to 9.6 lakh commuters per day in the last two years, most of the stations are in need of basic facilities.
Commuters on the Tiruvallur section travel as much as 42 km; Similarly, thousands of commuters on the busy routes connecting the city to Arakkonam and Sullurpeta travel a distance of 69 km and 81 km respectively.
Commuters on the Chennai Central-Gummidipoondi suburban line are concerned about irregular train services, poor maintenance and lack of amenities such as drinking water, public convenience and security in the stations.
They complain of step-motherly treatment compared to the services and amenities provided on the Chennai Central-Arakkonam and the Chennai Beach-Tambaram sections. Commuters with limited public transport facility to southern parts of the city say metro rail connectivity up to Tiruvottiyur and Moolakadai would help reduce travel time.
“Every day there is a delay. The 46-km journey between Gummidipoondi and Chennai Central takes almost 120 minutes while the scheduled journey time is 80 minutes. The EMUs waiting for signal clearance between Ennore-Chennai Central is a regular feature as the goods trains and express trains are being operated on the same lines,” said M. Dayanidhi, a daily commuter from Wimco Nagar station.
Beyond Ambattur on the west and beyond Chennai Beach in the north, there are only two railway lines, which are used by both long distance trains and local EMUs. Railway officials said a third line is being laid to give an exclusive line to the suburban trains to bring down the delay.
The Minjur railway station is one of the many that have poorly maintained foot overbridges or entirely lack them. The long pending demand of repairing an old foot-overbridge (FOB) is yet to be realised, said R. Krishnamurthi of Minjur.
The stations in Korukkupet and V.O.C.Nagar are testimony to the poor provision of facilities be it water supply or dilapidated and locked public convenience. S. Vanchinathan of Tiruvottiyur alleged that the water taps, which are damaged by miscreants to promote packaged drinking water sales, are not repaired. Though many stations in this section got new flooring recently, other amenities have still not been provided.
Compared to the other railway suburban lines, Central-Gummidipoondi has minimal number of road under-bridges. Commuters pointed out that in Wimco Nagar a loop line runs very close to the railway gate posing risk to passengers.
The Chennai Central and Tiruvallur stations remain crowded all day. Though train services are mostly regular, passengers point out that they had to rush from one platform to another to board a train due to the lack of public address system, as in the case of Pattabiram station.
Busy stations including Ambattur and relatively smaller stations in Putlur and Sevvapet remain neglected in terms of illumination, drinking water and proper FOBs. The station in Nemilicherry is yet to be provided with a proper platform and other facilities.
B. Rajendran of Ambattur said display boards with details on trains and ramps in the FOBs must be provided. Southern Railway should introduce short-distance trains during evening hours to ease the congestion on this sector.
Users want better cleanliness in stations, more coaches and roofs over platforms, where there are none. Commuters want the loop lines at Basin Bridge, Ambattur and Avadi to be converted to main lines as the trains get delayed by 15 minutes at these locations.
K. S. Gopalakrishnan, member of the Zonal Railway Users Consultative Committee, Southern Railway, Chennai division, said commuters find it difficult to reach stations such as near Hindu College and Nemilicherry, particularly during night as there is no proper access road. Though the authorities proposed to develop four or five ‘Adarsh stations' with amenities such as signage, adequate illumination, easy entry and exit and ticket counters, nothing has been done, he complained.
According to Chennai Divisional Railway Manager S. Anantharaman, connectivity and speed are more important than convenience in the station. “Even the concept of toilets in the stations came up only in the last 10 years,” he said.
“The USP is to travel in the shortest possible time and speed and safety. Unlike train terminuses, suburban stations are only transit points,” he said.
Sixteen of the 73 stations in the suburban sector had been developed into model stations with facilities such as shelters, announcement system, clock and seats. Passenger cooperation is important for cleanliness, he said.
The widening of stairs leading to the FOB in Nungambakkam was “a boon” to the commuters there. “We are also analysing the traffic bottlenecks in Mambalam and Egmore,” he added.
What They Say
T. Ravi Kumar, President, All India Rail and Bus Passengers Welfare Association
“As road expansion project is not possible in northern parts of Chennai, Metro Rail is an essential integrated transport system. Work should be expedited to reduce the discomfort of commuters. In the Chennai Central –Gummidipoondi section, only some stations, such as those in Ponneri, Minjur, Tondiarpet and Basin Bridge, have Railway Protection Force personnel. Security should be beefed up during night hours in all suburban stations. Many welfare organisations and traders are willing to provide facilities at railway stations through sponsorships. Southern Railway authorities must come forward to make use of such contribution.”
S. Anantharaman, DRM, Chennai Division, Southern Railway
In every station where there is a toilet we let it out on pay-and-use basis. But in stations where there are no takers for the contract, we have locked the toilet and left the key with the station master. Anyone who wants to use can contact the station masters. We are planning to give cheerful interiors and stainless rods to hold on to and cushion seats in I class.
Cleanliness is better in Tambaram. We have got rid of beggars and hawkers. But, we appeal to passengers to use dustbins and not throw used packets and coffee cups on the track.
N.Prabhu, commuter from West Tambaram
“The frequency of the metre gauge trains simply cannot be matched. I used to travel till Tiruvottiyur daily and not once have I been late. We used to miss a few crowded trains during the evening rush hour and still not lose a lot of time. The broad gauge trains travel faster, even some general compartments have foam seats, but still the frequency during the rush hours is not as it used to be during the MG days. Southern Railway has to give greater attention to commuters’ needs, including safe water supply, neatness and hygiene around platforms.”
(With input from K. Lakshmi, T. Madhavan, R. Sujatha and Ajai Sreevatsan)