How safe are Chennai’s railway stations?

There is clearly a case for deploying more police personnel and smarter use of technological aids

Published - June 02, 2017 04:58 pm IST

Twice a day, a railway policeman travels on a suburban train from Central MMC railway station to Kavarapettai, a small village near Gummunidipoondi.

He hops off at major stations, which include Tondiarpet, Tiruvottiyur and Minjur, to sign the police registers kept at these facilities. He then returns to the headquarters, located at Central MMC railway station.

That is the security arrangement made for commuters on the northern suburban line, which has 17 railway stations between Central MMC and Gummudipoondi. Around 240 services are operated between Central MMC and Sullurpeta (Andhra Pradesh) every day.

Although the railway helpline numbers are painted on most of the suburban and MRTS trains; how helpful they are in a crisis is a billion-dollar question.

“Between Central MMC and Kavarapettai, there are 16 railway stations, and we have only one Government Railway Police (GRP) inspector to monitor the security arrangements including surveillance, thefts, petty crimes and other offences,” said a Southern Railway official.

Stay alert

Last month, following an email warning of a bomb blast, the Senior Divisional Operating Manager of Southern Railway’s Chennai Division instructed all station managers to inform the GRP or Railway Protection Force (RPF) if they came across any object or person that evoked suspicion.

Staff shortage at RPF and GRP is said to be one of the hurdles in running an elaborate system to ensure safety of passengers. On an average, each platform at a railway station should have at least one policeman as part of the security arrangement.

The railway station should have a police station consisting of 10 to 12 police personnel including women constables. CCTV cameras with a central monitoring system should be an element of this arrangement. Having fewer entry and exit points with good illumination will go towards ensuring safety of commuters. How safe are Chennai railway stations

Staff crunch

At present, on an average, each railway station has only one policeman (mainly from the GRP) to monitor all platforms (generally four platforms). Most of the GRP stations in the Southern Railway’s Chennai Region, which consists of North Line (Central – Gummunidipoondi), West Line (Central – Arakkonam) and South Line (Chennai Beach – Tambaram) are dilapidated and function with a skeleton staff of around four to five police personnel.

The Chennai Region of the Southern Railway has 128 suburban railway stations. The West Line (Central – Arakkonam) accounts for 30 of them, but commuters hardly find any police presence at most of these stations including major ones like Villivakkam, St. Thomas Mount and Tiruvottiyur.

“Smaller stations like Pattaravakkam, Korattur and Tirusualm are scary for commuters, especially for women travellers, at night, due to poor illumination and lack of any police presence,” said K. Vijayalakshmi, a commuter from St. Thomas Mount.

Footboard travel

RPF has begun to penalise commuters travelling on footboard, especially when the trains are not packed.

“On the MRTS line, complaints of footboard travel have been fewer, but increasingly, we see commuters standing on the footboards of moving trains and talking on their mobile phones,” said R. Nagesh Kumar, an inspector attached to RPF.

On the Beach-Velachery MRTS line, on an average 10, people are fined for foot board travel every day.

CCTV surveillance

To increase surveillance at stations, Southern Railway has started installing CCTV cameras. Following the murder of Swathi at Nungambakkam railway station last year, the Southern Railway installed CCTV cameras at 82 railway stations in the Chennai Division including Nungambakkam railway station, at a total cost of Rs 40.6 crore. Each station, on an average, will have around 16 cameras. At present, CCTV cameras are available only at nine railway stations including Central, Egmore, Tambaram, Mambalam and Arakkonam. “CCTV cameras are going to aid the police mostly in the event of a crime, and we would still need police personnel to do the rounds,” said an RPF inspector.

( With inputs from Liffy Thomas. )

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