Poor lighting, lack of police personnel and large, empty spaces are cause for concern

A facility that seeks to provide better connectivity to the residents is increasingly found wanting on the safety front. The incident of a software engineer, who was robbed at knife-point at the Thiruvanmiyur MRTS station on Wednesday, is yet another case that raises the question of security.

About a month ago, a youth was murdered at the Mandaveli station, following which security at the MRTS facilities was stepped up.

V.R. Vidya, who commutes between Perungudi and Beach stations regularly, feels illumination at the stations is one aspect that needs immediate attention. “Unless stations are better lit, women passengers will not feel confident enough to use the MRTS service in the evenings.”

Some stations, including Perungudi, Greenways Road, Light House, Taramani and Thiruvanmiyur, evidently need more lighting. The presence of one Railway Protection Force personnel is hardly enough, says M. Arjun, an IT professional. “Some stations are nearly empty and it will help if more than one RPF personnel is posted,” says Mr. Arjun, who was travelling from Velachery to Park station on Friday.

Efforts were made in 2008 to increase the number of RPF personnel manning important entry and exit points at the station after it was found that less than half the required number of personnel were deployed on any given day. But commuters say there has been no visible increase in their numbers.

Inspector General of the Government Railway Police Sunil Kumar says that none of the 65 sanctioned GRP guards patrol the MRTS section. “Most of them are used to provide security at the Central and Egmore stations. They are diverted only in case of a major incident.”

If the illumination at stations is poor, lighting at the parking lots is even worse. The Thiruvanmiyur parking lot, for instance, is a long passage that is completely dark. Just as the station, which has four entry and exit points, the parking lot too has multiple entry points. Completely dark and wearing a deserted look, it also has iron rods lying on the ground, posing a risk to users.

Bhuvaneswari, a resident of Ambattur who commutes to Taramani by the suburban EMU service, said that security is a big concern for the commuters, particularly women. “Women working in IT companies, who use the MRTS services, are usually advised to travel in groups during night time.”

Even ticket checkers strongly feel the need for more RPF personnel. Sometimes, when we ask some youngsters to produce the ticket, they simply run away. “Some even threaten us. How do we do our job properly feeling so insecure?” asks a female ticket checker at one of the stations.

The structure and design of most stations is such that the tracks are at the second level. In most stations, particularly during non-peak hours, it is virtually impossible to find passengers at the intermediate level. The lack of signages at each level makes it quite challenging for a new user.

The space at the intermediate levels, envisaged for commercial establishments, remains dusty, empty and neglected. The issue of security is closely linked to the overall viability of MRTS services. Four stations — Park, Thirumayilai, Thiruvanmiyur and Velachery — account for nearly 40 per cent of the entire passenger flow on the MRTS. A number of stations remain deserted through the day.

Divisional Railway Manager S. Anantharaman says that efforts are under way to lease out space for commercial exploitation on the ground floor of the stations.

“The size of the stations presents a large potential, but it has not been exploited. It is true that many remain deserted. The Rail Land Development Authority has completed pre-bid formalities and orders will be issued soon to set up commercial spaces.”

It is in this backdrop that the authorities have also decided to come up with smaller stations in the proposed extension of the MRTS from Velachery to St.Thomas Mount.

(With inputs from Ajai Sreevatsan, Meera Srinivasan and R. Srikanth)

What they say

S. Amuda, bank employee and regular MRTS user: I have been using the service for nearly two and a half years. I commute from Velachery to Light House and back every day. On days that I get delayed in the evening, I avoid taking the train from the Light House station as it is deserted and seems very unsafe. Instead, I take an autorickshaw to Mylapore and board the train there. This is an excellent service that is badly in need of better safety measures.

S. Anantharaman Divisional Railway Manager: Incidents of theft can happen anywhere. Police presence in MRTS stations is meant to act only as a deterrent. We cannot provide police personnel in every nook and corner. The possibility of closing some entry and exit points in stations that do not receive large passenger volumes could be looked into. We might introduce shutters and close certain pathways so that it would be easier for personnel to restrict entry and exit.