Coach with Metro-like seating will be rolled out for a media trial on Tuesday; passengers can experiment with it in 2-3 days
Mumbai: Weeks after techie Ganesh Nakate fell to his death – which was filmed on a mobile phone and shared widely – the Central Railway will roll out one coach with Metro-like seating on its network. The change in seating is being carried out on an experimental basis and will be reviewed after passenger feedback.
The Central Railway (CR) is expected to launch four modified coaches with Metro-longitudinal seats and have removed three seats near the door.
The CR has been talking about including these modified coaches with a two-by-two seat arrangement, but a decision has not been reached so far.
A senior railway official, requesting anonymity, said the 2006 experimental coaches with two-by-two seats already exist and so do the longitudinal seats, but it seems the latter is the better of the two. “In the longitudinal seats’ arrangement, the three seats located immediately next to the doors have been removed,” said the official.
As per the CR plan, nearly half of the coach with the alterations will have longitudinal seating just like the Metro. The remaining part of the coach will have space for dabbawalas, a reserved area for handicapped passengers and transverse seating, as is the norm in the coaches presently. A nine-member committee, formed by the railway minister in the wake of Nakate’s death, had suggested that the change in the seating arrangements would provide more space for people to stand during peak hours, thus – hopefully – bringing down incidents of people falling off trains.
“We have changed the seating arrangement in five coaches on an experimental basis. The first row of seats near the coach door has been removed to create more standing space,” a Central Railway official told.
The CR currently has three coaches, of two-by-two and longitudinal seating, running in Bharat Heavy Electrical Limited (BHEL)-make trains and the current modified trains are of Seimens make expected to run by Christmas. “The trial run of these modified coaches will be for a period of a month after which we will conduct a commuter survey to check whether they passengers liked the modified coaches or not,” said another official.
The Railways will be unveiling the coaches to the media at the Matunga car-shed today afternoon after which the coaches will undergo rigorous safety checks before being inducted into service.
Modified seats have been introduced twice in the Mumbai suburban system. Once in 1975 and in 2006. The trains were also fondly named Khada Gaadi (standing train) during these experiments. Commuters on both instances rejected the experiment and the Railways did not build more such coaches as a result. The 2006 experiment had, in fact, caused one of the commuters to file an appeal in the high court against the same. “People from Kasara, Karjat, Vasai, who travelled for one to one-and-a-half-hours, had rejected the concept as they had been left standing for a very long time during the journey. The commuters said that they would rather take a chance at sitting halfway during the journey than stand throughout it,” added the official.
Railway officials hope that the four-coaches idea would work since Seimens’ trains are broader than the BHEL ones.
The five coaches with the alterations will be rolled out for a media trial on Tuesday afternoon. The coaches will then return to the car shed for inspection. “After the inspection, we will introduce the coaches with Metro-like seating arrangements in 2-3 days for the public,” said Sunil Kumar Sood, general manager of central railway.
“We are working on all possibilities to create extra capacity in local trains to avoid deaths on tracks. We are going to introduce 41 new local services, including seven on harbour line and 22 on trans-harbour line, from January 26,” a CR official said.
Although activists and passengers welcomed the move, they say it is not a long-term solution and will be beneficial only for passengers tarvelling shorter distances.
“The new seating arrangement is a good idea but it is useful only in the short-term. Imagine a person buying a ticket for the CST-Kalyan train and having to stand for the entire duration of the journey. It’s impossible. Railways will have to work towards putting double-decker trains on tracks and increasing the number of coaches to 15. That is the only way to decongest the network and curb the number of deaths,” said Sameer Zaveri, a railway activist.
Shubhash Gupta, member of zonal railway users consultative council, said increasing standing capacity works only for short-distance rides. Railways have to think about people who travel from Karjat or Kasara to CST too as the travel time for them is over two hours, he said.
Old-timers remember a similar plan being mooted, tried and shot down in the late 70s. Mumbaikars used to call the train “khada” local and the plan never got on track. However, around 40 years later, Nakate’s death has changed all that and revived the “khada” local.