“When is the next train to Mumbai, the washbasin in the coach is leaking, the fan is not working, just called to check whether the number is for real…”

The Railway Protection Force (RPF) and Railway Police get such polite enquiries and ‘information' on helplines instituted for commuters in distress.

The operators separate the emergency calls from the trivial ones daily.

The RPF's helpline number (99950 40000) for Thiruvananthapuram division receives on an average 30 calls a day, of which only ten callers are genuine complaints. The Railway police helpline number (9846200100) too receives many prank calls.

Since the authorities cannot afford to ignore genuine callers, they attend all calls. The number of calls began to go up after a woman, Soumya, was pushed off the train, raped and killed in Thrissur last year.

Easier number

Gauging the apprehension of the public, the RPF replaced its old helpline number, which was not much publicised and was difficult to recall, with the latest number that is easy to remember. Most of the calls are received between 6 p.m. and 5 a.m. Calls from women are often about suspicious looking persons lurking around or staring at them.

Complaints of inebriated persons creating nuisance also pour in.

“In fact, we have booked more than 100 persons on this charge in less than a month,” a RPF official operating the helpline said.

However, officials would like better cooperation from the callers.

Some of them are reluctant to give their details or to even pick up the phone while the officials return the call to take further action.

“Some callers do not even give basic details like the train number or the station through the train is passing. We have to inform our men posted in stations along the way or aboard trains to act on the complaints,” the official said. 

The helpline officials of the Thiruvananthapuram division pass on calls from beyond their jurisdiction to their counterparts in Palakkad division (0491-2553636), which covers Palakkad, Malappuram, Kozhikode, Kannur, and Kasaragod districts.

The helpline in this division receives on an average only about 15 calls in a week. Though the number has been in use for quite some time and is displayed in coaches, it seems like it needs to be better publicised, sources said. 

Railway helplines are meant for commuters in distress, but pranksters seem to use them more.