AC coach passengers were made to travel in sleeper coaches in the Kerala Express on Monday

The Southern Railway’s reluctance to provide sufficient number of coaches for trains in Kerala is taking an ugly turn.

On Monday, passengers who had reserved tickets for an AC 3-tier coach on Kerala Express had to contend with a sleeper coach.

The acute paucity of coaches and pit lines to maintain them had, of late, contributed to derailments and coaches falling apart while in transit in Kerala. Reacting to Monday’s incident, a senior Railway official said passengers were shocked to see that they were provided with a sleeper coach to travel to New Delhi in the chilly weather.

“Matters took a nasty turn when a few people demanded bed rolls which are provided in all AC coaches. They picked a quarrel with Railway staff and pulled the chain as the train reached Kottayam. Following this, the Railway Protection Force (RPF) registered a case against them for pulling the chain, as the train reached Ernakulam. The passengers resumed the journey in the coach,” he said.

No pantry cars

The Venad Express and a couple of other trains are plying sans pantry cars for about a month after these coaches were sent to Chennai for repairs.

In the meantime, speaking about the two recent incidents in which a coach broke in two while in transit at Alappuzha and parts of an AC coach falling onto the track near Changanassery on Wednesday, the Thiruvananthapuram Divisional Railway Manager Rajesh Agarwal told The Hindu that there were shortfalls in maintaining coaches. “This will be tackled at the divisional level and we are working on that. We will attend to problems, if any, on the upkeep of tracks too. We will progressively correct the problems,” he said.

Official apathy

The general secretary of the All Kerala Railway Passengers’ Association Mathew Paul wondered why such accidents took place so often in Kerala and not in Tamil Nadu. “The reason is simple – many coaches that are taken to Chennai for major repairs are not sent back to Kerala. This is apart from the trend to divert ramshackle coaches to the State. Such official and ministerial apathy towards Kerala will stop only if Kerala gets a dedicated railway zone.”

Pit lines needed

As for the role that Union Ministers and MPs from the State have to play in ensuring the availability of quality coaches, Mr Paul said most of them were a failure when it came to liaising with high-ranking Railway officials in New Delhi and ensuring that the State got its due.

“The Railway cannot cite paucity of land as an excuse in not setting up adequate number of pit lines. The Railway owns a huge area of land that is lying idle in and around the Harbour Terminus railway station in Willingdon Island, Kochi. Similar is the case with the now-unused old railway station located behind the High Court. Pit lines built here will be of tremendous help in cleaning coaches and also repairing them.”

Many had attributed the reason for the spate of recent accidents to the very little time available for cleaning and maintaining the rolling stock. The inadequate manpower in the few pit lines available in Kerala is another problem.

“Under the prevailing situation, the division needs at least 100 spare coaches of different types, including AC coaches. This will help us to do timely maintenance of rakes (set of coaches) and temporarily ply trains using the spare coaches,” said the Additional Divisional Railway Manager of Thiruvananthapuram V. Rajeevan.

To allegations that old and ill-maintained coaches are finding it tough to travel at higher speeds, Mr Rajeevan said trains travelled at up to 100 kms per hour only in a few portions within Kerala. “They slow down based on the steepness of curves and condition of tracks. Modern rolling stock (engines and coaches) will lessen accidents and also speed up acceleration and deceleration.”

On many coaches being full of cockroaches and rats, he said this was mainly because passengers littered the floor and even seats with food. “Leftovers of tea and snacks are often tucked beside seats.”

There are also instances of pests sneaking into coaches from drains near pit lines and stations.

Ernakulam Area Manager of Southern Railway P.L. Asok Kumar said coaches were sent for overhauling every 18 months.

“Often, we get back old coaches and those that were overhauled 10 months back. The availability of coaches has also not kept pace with the number of new trains,” he said.There is inadequate manpower for bogie repairs in the State.

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