A group of young men get down from a suburban electric multiple unit that had just pulled into the Tambaram railway station on a Friday evening, only to be whisked away by railway staff.
The young male commuters, who were not natives of the city, were new to suburban train travel. They claimed they were not aware they were travelling in a first class compartment during their short trip from Chromepet to Tambaram, for which they had purchased a second class ticket. They were all fined Rs. 200.
One reason for many commuters getting confused between second and upper class coaches is due to the fading and nearly invisible ‘first class’ signs painted on the exteriors of the compartments.
The maintenance of the rakes, including the painting of the compartments and markings indicating the class, is the responsibility of the EMU car shed, Tambaram, Southern Railway staff said. They said every crew member of the commercial department engaged in ticket checking hauled up, on an average, at least two commuters daily for travelling in first class compartments with second class tickets.
Half of them, including foreign tourists and construction workers from other States, were found to be unaware of the difference. All of them ended up paying fines as high as Rs. 400 per head.
According to P. Anand Kumar, a government employee and commuter on suburban trains for over 15 years, in some of the new rakes, there was not much difference in the seating arrangements of first and second class compartments, with both having comfortable, cushioned foam seats, The only difference was that in the upper class compartments, there was a shiny velvet cover, he added.
R. Durairaj, another commuter on the Tambaram–Chengalpattu route, said this problem was more pronounced on the Melmaruvathur–Arakknonam train service, which even had vestibules connecting all the compartments.
A southern railway official assured that the issue of fading markings would be looked into. However, the official added that there were other signage differentiating second class coaches from the first.