As a premier rail terminal that is used by thousands of people every hour, Chennai Central needs services that are both reliable and of high quality.

Passengers are weary at the end of a journey — they encounter bed-bugs in the air-conditioned compartment linen and various pests in all bogies — and want a comfortable, quick exit from the station. Those who come to the station to take a train have to elbow their way to the platforms, as the main concourses have long exhausted their capacity to handle the throngs.

What is really striking about Central is its deteriorating traffic ecology: waste of circulating space outside the stately terminal. This is evident in the parking area, the autorickshaw stands, and the lanes that lead out towards the erstwhile Moore Market. Rubbish has proliferated in all areas outside of the terminal, blocking pedestrian movement, and in the monsoon, this filthy landscape turns into a horror for those who must transport their baggage to cars, the run-down taxi and autorickshaw bays or buses across the road.

To walk to the two pedestrian subways outside is to brave an obstacle course. Of course, some of the difficulty is temporary, because of the construction of a major interchange — a metro rail station for passengers to change lines. But is it extraordinarily difficult to create a proper paved surface in the precincts of the station and improve the lighting for the present?

The irony of the situation is that it is the same officialdom governing the environment at Central that is promising us a different world when the Chennai Metro arrives. Undoubtedly, the Metro is shaping up as an engineering marvel that can potentially change the way we all move. It is a pity that the rail corridors under implementation are woefully inadequate to meet demand from far corners of the city and the system is losing economies of scale. Again, it remains to be seen if the government will aid linking of buses and feeder transport to it, and give harassed passengers the option of a common rail-bus ticket.

Laissez faire taxi and autorickshaw operations that exist today can only put off commuters if they remain unchanged. Crucially, Southern Railway and the Tamil Nadu authorities have to shake off their indolence in managing public space. The proof of their rosy future concepts will lie in how efficiently they act in the present. Central station is poised to become much more crowded in about two years – the Metro station here will be common for both the Metro lines now under implementation – one leading west to Thirumangalam and on to Koyambedu, and the other south, to the airport. It will connect, as Chennai Metro Rail Ltd. notes, more than one suburban railway a short distance away. The most important government hospital in the State is also only a couple of hundred metres away and the new Madras Medical College building in the nearby Old Jail area is ready.

Thus, what Central needs today is a traffic ecologist to study it carefully, and reorder the lines of movement – putting people first.  So here is a list of things to do immediately: A. Clean up the entire complex of muck, debris, and filth to increase circulating space B. Pave the surface used by passengers and vehicles to proper engineering standards C. Put up sign boards inside and outside the terminal on facilities available, with directions using global travel signage standards. D. Improve lighting in public access areas outside the terminal. E. Run a regulated and transparent call taxi and autorickshaw service, abolishing monopolies.

None of this is expensive and there is a lot of passenger goodwill to be gained.

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