Mumbai local trains are, in many ways, a defining feature of the city. There is almost no one who has lived in the city and has not travelled by the local trains. While most of the populaces gripe and grumble about the train service, everyone appreciates how impossible life would be without it. Mumbai’s local rail network is the busiest commuter train system in the world; with 7.5 million people using the trains to commute daily, it is no surprise that overcrowding, here, reaches at its epic magnitudes. Annually, the local railways transport 2.2 billion passengers, which is about a third of the world’s population. As I said, life is not easy without these locals but at the same time, it is not very easy travelling in these locals, a normal person gets exhausted, his life shrinks travelling by trains. Think of people with disabilities, who are already in crisis of life and the facilities provided to them and grabbed by non-handicapped commuters.
Previously, Railway cops resorted to public shaming of able-bodied people travelling in the handicapped coach of Mumbai locals by making them stand on crutches on the platform. RPF has initiated an uncomfortable yet fitting punishment for many physically able commuters who flouted the rules and made them stand on crutches till the cops finished legal proceedings against them. There is still an increasing trend of people claiming to be handicapped to travel in the “Divyaang” (Handicap) compartment, which is relatively less crowded. Many a times cops carry out drives from time to time to avoid such violations, but there seems to be no impact on the commuters since the fine involved is too less. Overcrowded trains need proper surveillance.
There are number of complaints from handicapped commuters stating encroachment of compartments reserved for them by able-bodied commuters as well as GRP and RPF personnel. The travellers have requested the Central Railway authorities to look into the demand of installing CCTV cameras inside the handicapped compartment, just like the ones installed in ladies compartments. The regular commuters, even policemen, enter their coach and occupy seats. At times, they even abuse and humiliate handicapped passengers if they protest. The cameras are needed to have evidence to nail the offenders. Policemen demand for proof whenever a handicapped passenger approaches them to register a complaint against offenders.
Meanwhile, for some time, railway cops clutched many those who travel in the train compartments marked for the differently abled. Western Railway (WR) conducted a month-long survey to find out the number of differently abled commuters on local trains and asked them to identify themselves. Dressed in civil clothes, they used to ask for people inside such compartments to furnish proof of their being handicaps. Currently, these compartments — which are also designed differently for physically challenged and cancer patients — are located next to the first class compartment. Apparently, WR officials have received numerous complaints about regular commuters boarding the coaches meant for the handicapped. Cops warned commuters to stop travelling in handicapped compartments. Some were fined, some were ridiculed, some were shamed and punished, the regular combing goes on but in spite of all these massive drives, the problem is still the same; it’s an everyday struggle for a handicapped traveller to come across such situation. Unfortunately, the local trains and even Metro in Mumbai fail miserably in addressing this.
Another problem with local trains is the huge gap between trains and platform. Fixing this is not a rocket science. If the metros can close this gap, why can’t the railways? So many deaths have taken place because of this gap. Some of the railway foot over bridges are nearly the height of a two-storey building. Sometimes you have to climb them twice in 10 minutes because the train that was due in platform 5 suddenly decides to come in platform 3. Senior citizens and handicapped people struggle every day. Escalators are not the solution as the platform is not wide enough and only two people can stand side by side. Railway stations are linear and they are getting longer as the number of bogies increase. Platforms are also not always aligned. However, all the ingress and egress points are usually concentrated in a small area at the center.
For example, Andheri station, someone who has to board the train at the end of platform no 8, has to walk 700 meters. No one knows why railways cannot have multiple exits along the length of the platform. A normal human gets freaked in such situation; imagine a life of a handicapped person, especially if that commuter has problems with his legs or vision. Taking advantage of the crowd, pickpocketers try to steal wallets, mobile phones etc. Granted, we should be more careful, but a disabled person has many challenges to commute. However, sometimes we are so engrossed in saving ourselves from falling or getting stomped, that we don’t pay attention to our wallets. People often get in/out of the train while it is still moving. You never know, when you might slip and fall down in the process.
In spite of all these odds, we Mumbaikars cannot imagine Mumbai without its “Local Trains”. It is a symbol of unity and one of the most reliable transports for the people in and around the city. What we need is civic sense and human approach, more than that the reform and vigilance is the need of an hour.
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