The moment the train from Banihal Tunnel came to Kashmir, it was termed as the watershed event in Kashmir’s surface transport. What followed was the perfect image of the train coming from snow-draped landscape and saffron fields. But perhaps that image was just the mirage.
On Jan 29, 2013, the then Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh inaugurated the first train service in Kashmir. It has been 5 years since then. The trains have already started to lose their sheen.
In fact, here, the trains are everything opposite to convenience, speed, comfort and safety. This reporter travelled from Srinagar to Baramulla and back for about 3 months. Here’s everything that is wrong with the train services in Kashmir:
Location of the Station
Train stations are supposed to be accessible to all and at any point in time. Not only are the stations located at odd sites, they are far away from all those people who travel via train on a regular basis.
For example, the Nowgam Railway station is not only inconvenient for the people who come from far-flung areas but also for the locals living in the city. From the bus yard to the railway station, a person has to make separate efforts to travel to the railway station.
Bus Services to the Railway Station
There are two SRTC buses that leave for the railway station. One leaves early in the morning and another leaves an hour after that (at 7.20am and 8.15 am). However, there is no certainty whether the bus will leave for the station or not. There are no numbers well circulated or made available in the public domain on which one can call and at least confirm whether the bus will arrive or not.
Since trains leave on time (if at all they arrive on time!), one is left with no option than to board a Sumo Taxi which is an expensive affair if used on a daily basis.
The dusty roads with no right turn
Even if you decide to go to the railway station using your own vehicle, you will face hurdles. While travelling from Batmaloo to the Nowgam railway station on a Scooty, even the eyelashes of the reporter would be covered with the dust.
Moreover, as soon as you feel that you are about to reach in just one right turn, you realise that there is no cut in the road divider where from you could save fuel, time and effort to reach the station with convenience. You have to keep driving straight, then make a u-turn and then take a left when you could easily just take a right!
As you enter the station, if you are using your own vehicle you are supposed to pay for the parking an amount that is more than the ticket you would be buying! So, people pay the gatekeeper in the parking area Rs5 less and don’t take a receipt from him.
Whose fault is it?
No Update about timings
Be it the online updating system of the railways here or the on-spot updating, the system is undoubtedly faulty.
The announcements about the delay or cancellation of the trains is made 5 minutes before the train timing. Where is one supposed to go after that? Sometimes, the train status shows ‘ok’ online when in reality the services are suspended.
The dilemma of buying or not buying a ticket
Even if you reach the station 30 minutes early, the ticket provider will not come to the counter till there are just 5 to 10 minutes left in the departure of the train. What happens is that sometimes people prefer not to buy the ticket and board the train just like that!
No Ticket Collector
People who manage to buy a ticket ‘regret’ it afterwards as the ticket collector rarely shows up. However, many prefer to buy the ticket for using the cheaper services.
Stinky Washrooms and Bottomless Penguins
The washrooms at the station stink. You don’t even have to go in to smell the crap. The dustbins installed at the stations are bottomless!
They are broken. Moreover, the dustbins are in the shape of penguins and usually the waste does not fit in its ‘mouth’ and even if it does, it falls down as the penguin’s belly has no bottom!
When you board the train
As a good civilian, you expect others to wait for people to get down, and then board the train, but that does not happen. People try to board and get off the train at the same time and there are no authorities around to check the issue.
The cops on duty there sometimes find the scenes too funny and enjoy rather than helping the people. They just laugh it out when a woman hits another woman while struggling to grab a seat. Female cops are nowhere to be seen.
Many times did the reporter come across a woman with broken jaws or punched eyes who complained of the times when people don’t wait for their turns and push everything that comes in their way.
To tackle the issue, one gets off from the seat and stands near the gates of the moving train so as to save him/herself from the wrath of people trying to board the train. It is unsafe but what can one do!
Inside the train
During summers, a broken window is bliss. However, with the onset of winter, the feeling changes. Moreover, the broken windows are highly unsafe and the authorities often cover them up with polythene or plywood.
Also, the seats available to sit are too dirty. Sometimes, their backs are broken and sometimes there are springs coming out from them making it uneasy for people to sit.
There are some trains in which the woman’s compartment is without most of the seats. Moreover, the power sockets in the trains do not work and the fans are too dirty to even look upon.
No market on the stations
For people who travel via trains feel that there should be markets around the station that could help them quench their thirst or fill their stomachs as and when required.
Budgam, the odd stop
The train travelling from Baramulla to Srinagar and vice-versa stops at the Budgam railway station for 20 minutes. If you travel via a sumo, you will reach before the train can get you to your destination.
So the notion that travelling by train saves time is not a good idea here. One fine day, the train reached the Baramulla Railway station at 9. 35 am and took more than half an hour to reach the point where people get off! On that speed, sloths work, humans don’t!
All Railway contact numbers are not valid
There are days when you need to call the railways to know the status of the scheduled trains in order to reach your destination on time. To your surprise, the numbers provided by the railways are never in use.
And if you are smart enough to copy the number from station itself, not hard to guess, they never receive your calls despite calling them repeatedly.
There is much that has to be worked upon but the authorities seem least interested.
Talking to FreePress Kashmir, Zubair Majid, Stationmaster Budagn Railway Station, said that there are different departments with the railways that take decisions. Although he shifted most of the blames on other departments, he admitted to some of the mistakes being committed.
“Even we are uncertain about the train timings sometimes. That’s why we don’t issue the tickets until the last moment. However, things in our control will be worked upon,” said Majid.