A workshop within Kerala for timely overhaul of passenger train coaches remains a dream despite the Thiruvananthapuram and the Palakkad Divisions together owning 2,105 coaches.
Of this, Thiruvananthapuram owns 1,600 coaches – higher than any other division in Southern Railway. Despite this, the coaches are sent to Chennai and Trichy for overhaul, of which around 40 per cent are delayed or diverted to places in Tamil Nadu. Interestingly, neither division from Kerala is keen to have a full-fledged overhaul facility despite mounting concern over the safety and cleanliness of coaches that operate in Kerala.
Senior officials admit that the diversion of coaches sent from Kerala for overhaul is behind the steep fall in standards of coaches that ply in Kerala.
Former Railway Minister M. Vijayakumar said the Railway and the State government have a total of 50 acres of land in Nemom, where a coach-overhauling workshop could be built. “Former LDF government was willing to hand over the land to the Railways, when the first UPA Government was at the Centre. Though then Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav favoured our proposal, many key railway officials were against this. What proved death knell for the project was the fierce opposition from Mamata Banerjee, who succeeded Lalu as Railway Minister,” he said.
The Railways refused to heed to our demands despite it being a highlight at MPs’ conferences and also at pre-railway budget discussions. The workshop can be set up much faster than the coach and wagon factories proposed in the State, Mr Vijayakumar said. He called upon the Railway to change its approach towards Kerala’s key development demands.
Trains plying with fewer number of coaches too became the norm because of the non-availability of good coaches, sources said. They said that the Railway has got plenty of land at Shornur too, where periodic overhauling (done every 18 months) can be done.
The agency also has unused land in different parts of the State, including in Kochi – at Ponnurunni behind the High Court and at Harbour Termius, where an overhaul workshop could be built.
Acute coach shortage
In a letter to the General Manager of Southern Railway, the Thiruvananthapuram Divisional Railway Manager Rajesh Agarwal had cited that the shortage of 64 coaches in the division five months ago increased to 100. Though 402 coaches were sent to Chennai for periodic overhaul (done every 18 months), only 258 were returned. Due to these reasons, he had sought 47 coaches urgently to tide over the coach shortage.
Mr Agarwal said the turnaround time to maintain and repair coaches can be reduced if there is an increase in productivity of workers. Denying allegations of manpower being trimmed, he said depots in the State had ample number of workers. “We are open to installing more machines to speed up the time taken for repairs and maintenance,” he said. To a question on opening a facility to overhaul coaches within Kerala, he said that there is no need for this at present.