I was on my trip to Vaishno Devi by train when I realized this startling difference between the rail system of India and Singapore. Though it’s foolish to compare the two because of the sheer size and demographical differences of the passengers, but I don’t think our Railways are even moving on the right track. There are a few differences worth noting in the two railway systems and they make a huge impact on the way people travel.
Difference starts from the very first step of booking the ticket for rail travel. Indian Railways has a very crude system of issuing Railway Passes to the regular passengers, Freedom Fighters, Army Men & their families and many more such categories. It’s too easy to bypass the system and travel without ticket (WT in the parlance of regulars). On contrary, Singapore MRT (just like our Delhi Metro) has a fool proof system where the entry of passengers is guarded by machines and not by corrupt TTs who can easily be bribed in case a passenger is caught WT. The nexus of Ticket Checkers in the trains is so well-guarded that no checking inspector questions the signature of his fellow TT who has already taken money from the passenger and assured him/her of a RESERVED seat.
The second difference is that of safety and security of the passengers. We hear the news of train accidents every now and then. Angry crowds burn the trains, just like the one in Godhra or the one recently burned in Punjab. How does Indian Railways or the Ministry of Railways plan to deal with this problem? During Nitish Kumar’s tenure as Railways Minister, he kept aside thousands of crores of rupees to be implemented on improving the safety and security of Railways, but that was released in the very first year of Laloo’s reign and hence, the huge profits shown by Railways. It’s high time that the authorities realize that it’s not money that they are looking at, it’s the facility that they care about. I could not see a single Fire Extinguisher in any train that I’ve travelled in. In Sleeper Class Bogies and General Bogies, people are cramped up like anything. Mumbai Local trains are even worse. What is the contingency plan for these passengers in case the train catches fire? None. Besides, there’s no check on the vendors entering the bogies and compartments without even being noticed or frisked by the concerned police personnel or the attendants. Nobody seems to care about it. Cameras are installed at a few important stations with an underlying assumption that illegal activity will happen from only those few stations. How sound is that assumption? I really worry.
The third and the last difference that I’d like to point out is that of the decency of travel by the passengers. It must be realized that it’s not only the fault of the government or Indian Railways, but also us — the passengers. We eat and drink and smoke anywhere and everywhere in the train and then don’t even care to throw the plastics and polythene bags and the fruit pile-offs in dustbins. What makes it worse is that there aren’t any dustbins installed in trains, atleast not in sleeper or general compartments. In some of the AC Bogies, dustbins are there, but most of the times they are filled to the brim and hence, are of no use.
As is logical, there has to be a joint effort by the Indian Railways and the passengers to make their journey a memorable one. Government has to realize that Re 1 increase in the fares will not make much of a difference to the passengers if they are assured of a better, safer and a respectable journey. So, rather than giving sops like No Increase In Fare, Railways Ministry should focus on improvising the rail system.
The writer is a senior correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz. He holds special interest in Social Entrepreneurship. You can connect with him on Twitter at twitter.com/arunthaparian