Unkempt surroundings and lack of facilities mar the MRTS stations in north Chennai. Liffy Thomas reports

A round clock with two faces, manufactured by Gani & Sons, dangling from the roof of the station grabs my attention as I alight at Chennai Fort. But, it is not ticking. Not bothering about the stench, dirt or dust, I walk up to the railway official's room on the platform and ask for the complaint register.

“Madam, the clock has not been working for months. The Railway is unable to find clock repairers,” he explains politely.

In the same breath he adds, that only stations with station masters have a complaint book and I must make an online complaint addressed to the Public Relation Officer. “The action will be quick, madam,” he assures, asking me to also include in the letter that the station has no water and toilet facility.

While it's a litany of woes at the 25-km long MRTS, the stations in north Chennai top the list. The inability of the Railway to maintain the stations has a telling impact on its patronage. But, for many residing in the northern belt, the MRTS is a lifeline.

For Geetha Sarvanan and Pooja, who commute to Kilpauk on work, the MRTS is the best mode of transport from Rajiv Gandhi Salai for it reduces travel time by half. “During monsoon, the station gets flooded and it is difficult to wade through it,” says Pooja, looking at Geetha threading jasmine flowers in the compartment. Compared to stations in the south, northern ones have better inter-nodal transport, but presents a sorry picture when it comes to maintenance.

Over 80,000 passengers use the MRTS every day and a good number of them travel to the northern part of the city. Passengers here have been demanding increase in frequency of trains during peak hours (9 car), clean water and toilet facility and refreshment stalls at the stations. For senior citizens and physically challenged they want a separate compartment.

“When the MRTS service started between Beach and Mylapore, travelling felt like luxury. The frequency of trains was less but we enjoyed every ride. Today, the service is deteriorating,” says Viji Sebastain, who travels to Beach station from Thiruvanmiyur on work.

With Chennai waiting for the first phase of Metro Rail project to commence, passengers hope it would not go the MRTS way.

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