Dealing with waitlisted statuses that run into three-digits despite advance booking, grappling with the uncertainty of Tatkal tickets and lack of safety are some of the main worries facing Indian rail passengers, who made up a phenomenal 8 billion strong force in 2011-12.
Top on the wish-list of the aam admi ahead of NDA’s maiden Railway Budget is safety and more certainty when it comes to ticket availability.
The steep 14.2 percent hike in railway passenger fares announced by the BJP-led government has not gone down with commuters. Coming at a time when prices of vegetable prices are continuing to soar, the rail hike has come as rude shock.
"If the government must increase fares, it should restrict them to AC Class. They should not increase the burden on sleeper and general class because poor and lower middle-class passengers simply cannot afford it. By all means, increase fares for those who can afford it. When transport costs increases, the price of everything else also rises. The government should keep the poor in mind before going ahead with their decisions,” said Madhu Singh, a housewife.
Initiatives like the ‘Garib Rath’ (no-frills AC trains), said Singh, should be expanded. “The Garib Rath is very good initiative. They should be more trains like that. The fares are very good and it is a very good alternative for commuters who are not well-to-do,” she said.
The other main worry for Singh on train journeys is safety. "One never sees any police officers or security personnel patrolling the trains. There should be at least one personnel per compartment and if that is not possible the government should introduce a separate compartments of ladies, like we have in the metro trains," says Singh.
A more convenient and reliable Tatkal system remains a key demand of rail passengers. The Railways, they say, should do more to cater to the demand in peak seasons by introducing more trains and cracking down on the nexus between touts and railway officials.
"Despite having so many trains, from Delhi to Eastern India, why is it so difficult to get a seat? The Railways have to address this basic issue. It is not always easy to plan two months in advance. When you want to travel on short notice, it becomes very difficult. Despite having the Tatkal facility, it is not easy to get a Tatkal ticket. The government has to address this basic issue... Touts are flourishing because there are problems in the system. This has to be addressed," said Sanjay Kumar, a media professional, who was stranded in Patna for three days last month after he was unable to get train tickets to Delhi.
Better and cleaner facilities on platforms and on trains, said Kumar, would go a long way in enhancing the rail experience.
But safety remains the priority, especially for women travellers, when it comes to trains. "A very important concern is safety of women because there is always a sense of insecurity while travelling on trains. That does not necessarily mean that there should be more police men on guard but a presence of railway staff who are accessible and friendly would help create a sense of security... In terms of booking, it would be helpful if more seats were allocated for Tatkal and the booking process was made more easy,” said Apoorva, a student at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Bringing up the Indian Railways’ inglorious record of persisting with the practice of employing manual scavengers to clean the railway tracks despite a law against manual scavenging, Apoorva said, “A big concern is that the railways happens to be the biggest agency for manual scavenging in the country. Definitely steps need to be taken on this front. There has to be a different way of dealing with this…while Railways have made improvements on other fronts, on the issue of manual scavenging and on the issue of safety, there has been no change at all.”
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Updated Date: Jul 08, 2014 09:44:48 IST