Srinagar: As the train siren is heard from a distance at the Srinagar’s Nowgam station, the passengers begin clustering around the platform. Pushing each other, they try to make their way into the train while blocking the way for those deboarding it. Some flock to get in through the windows. After a brief stay, the train leaves for the next station with most of the passengers standing.
The train services connecting Qazigund to Baramullah were inaugurated on 11 october 2008 by the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. In 2013, it was extended to Banihal across high mountains that previously could be crossed only through risky road transport. Currently dozens of Diesel Multiple Units (DEMU) trains run on the completed stretch of 130km between Baramulla in the north to Banihal in the south with 15 stops in between, the most crowded being Srinagar’s Nowgam station.
Despite of increasing number of trains and coaches time after time, trains remain to be over crowded at peak hours. Passengers suffer unbearable levels of congestion during morning and evening hours. Passengers are forced to keep a standing position in trains as the capacity of coaches isn’t sufficient to accommodate the high crowd during peak time.
Fayaz Ahmad, resident of Bijbehara who travels to work at Srinagar regularly, says that he is compelled to stand especially during the peak hours and suffers from asphyxia.
The unrest last year led the train services to be suspended for nearly five months. During the stone-pelting incidents, many window panes were broken. These have now been replaced with temporary ply wood sheets blocking the air flow into the compartments.
“To allow the air accumulate in, the boards were removed by railway officials recently leaving behind wide open spaces which is risky, especially for the children who get tempted to sneak out from the windows” says Parvaiz Ahmad a daily commuter.
The trains also have two compartments reserved for ladies. “ We have to suffer the most as we have to struggle to make a way through crowds of men to board and unboard, plus only two compartments are reserved for us which are not sufficient to accommodate heavy number of female passengers” says a girl student of Kashmir University.
Many seats inside the coaches have also been damaged, reducing the seating capacity. The coaches also lack an efficient cleaning system. The cans of juice, chips wrappers and other garbage keep lying on the floor because of lack of dustbins or anyone to collect the garbage.
As per the official estimates, 25000 passengers travel by train every day. Kashmir currently has total rack of eight coaches with total passenger seat accommodation of 618. The services reduced the cost and time of travel greatly but the capacity does not seem quiet sufficient to accommodate the commuters.
Chief Area Manager Kashmir railways Hari Mohan, posted at Budgam headquarters, railway department has sent a proposal to Indian Railway Ministry for adding more coaches and expects to get 12 bogies in each train. The process of addition has been delayed by frequent closure of Srinagar Jammu National Highway and heavy rush of Amarnath yatra as the boggies are to be transported by road from Katra to Budgam says Mohan.
“Presently we give 30 services a day among which 12 ply between Budgam_-Banihal track, 10 on Banihal-Baramullah and 8 on Budgam-Baramullah” he added. The department is also providing additional five services on special occasions like Eid to overcome the heavy rush.
Mohan complains that despite providing the smooth and cheap service with just 30 rupees fare for travel between Baramullah and Banihal, some rogue elements are trying to destroy this public property. “Trains are frequently attacked by stone pelters who break up window panels and inner structures,” says Mohan.
He estimates the cost of repair of a single window pane to be around 15000 to 20000 INR, a cost that they cannot incur without getting proper funds from the Northern railways.
Apart from the long disruption last year, this year too the services have remained disturbed due to frequent incidents of protest breaking out in South Kashmir. The department is yet to have a website for providing timely updates about the train timings and cancellations and is solely dependent on a Centralized enquiry system that remains accessible from 7am to 7pm.
“When tension grips in the valley, we receive a tip off from DIG of Police Kashmir for suspension of trains for security reasons. We then provide a press release announcing the suspension of trains,” says Mohan.
The department has also appointed a Health Inspector to take care of the anitation and hygiene of trains and railway stations.