Indian Decade

India’s Depressing Trains

Traveling on India’s trains is a depressing experience, especially for Indian labourers.

Anyone who thinks they’ve seen rush hour should try visiting New Delhi railway station during the summer (although after you do it will be a long time before you feel like doing so again).

I had to go there the other day to see a friend off. There was no space in the normal parking area,sowe could only find space in the VIP parking lot (which costs almost two dollars— expensive by Delhi standards).

The newly-built New Delhi Railway station was chaos on all the sixteen platforms, but particularly pronounced on those meant for trains leaving for eastern Indian states, like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where the chaos is compounded by the overall negligence of the railway authorities.

There’s a long queue in front of the general bogie, which is unreserved and typically used by poor migrant labourers as it’s cheap. But it’s difficult to describe how bad the conditions are for those making the up to sixteen or twenty-hour journeys. The bogies are packed with people, and although they’re supposed to have a capacity of 72  passengers, the one I saw parked at the station had, at a conservative guess, 200 people squeezed inside, with another 30 or 40 on the platform trying to find their way in.

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It’s clear that despite the vital role these labourers play in renewing the nation’s capital, they face complete humiliation and apathy from the government, which only payslip service to their needs. Despite the government being aware of the summer rush, and the awful conditions under which these labourers travel, no serious attempt has been made to address this problem.

The situation in other coaches was also poor. The reserved coach, for example, also contains many unreserved passengers who hope to get a confirmed seat by bribing the staff who check tickets (although this is usually a wasted effort as staff can’t confirm vacant seats that don’t exist).

Indian Railways is the largest state carrier in the world, with hundreds of thousands of people travelling with it everyday. But little attention has been paid to streamlining and modernizing the service, despite the huge revenues generated by the railways every year. The railways add new trains every year without improving the infrastructure and addressing the basic problems at hand. China also has a huge railway system and a huge population, but I don’t ever read about travel chaos there.

The new-look New Delhi station certainly impressed me from the outside. But inside it’s an utterly maddening experience.

Guest Author

Sanjay Kumar

Sanjay Kumar is a New Delhi-based journalist and correspondent for The Diplomat.

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