Scanners at rly stations weren’t a necessity

In a freewheeling discussion with The Indian Express editorial staff on future plans of Central Railway (CR) and the challenges before it, general manager Subodh Jain talks about security issues facing the suburban railway system and possible improvements to trains and stations. Excerpts

KALPANA VERMA: What do you think of the elevated corridors being planned for suburban railways?

Subodh Jain: In Mumbai, buildings are getting taller and because of this, low-lying railway lines have become more prone to flooding during monsoon.

Elevated corridors will minimise problems of the city and commuters. They will take around 20 per cent of the traffic, easing the burden on existing lines.

SWATEE KHER: With frequent terror attacks and especially after 26/11, what efforts has the government made to secure railway stations?

SJ: We are operational units and our main job is to run trains punctually. However, an integral security system is being implemented on railway premises and Rs 27 crore has been sanctioned for it. CCTV cameras installed at major stations have helped crack many cases. Continuous monitoring of CCTV camera footage is the focus. Of course, dog squads need to be there. Presence of security men acts as a deterrent. CCTVs cannot be a preventive measure.

MAYURA JANWALKAR: Don't you think there should be video surveillance on local trains as security at in-between stations may not be as strict as at main stations such as Churchgate and CST.

SJ: That is a good point to consider. The new set of local trains manufactured by German firm Bombardier Transportation support hi-tech mobile video surveillance. These coaches will be available by March 2013. CR may install hi-tech CCTV cameras with IP technology in these coaches. But this system is not possible in existing coaches.

SWATEE KHER: Scanning machines were put up in haste, what purpose are they serving?

SJ: We were asked to put up the machines and we did it. It was not a necessity. The baggage-scanning machine at CST will be used, especially for parcels and luggage compartment.

SWATEE KHER: What purpose have the metal detectors at entrances to stations served? Commuters easily bypass these.

SJ: We cannot stop passengers from easy access. If security is tightened at entrances, it will lead to a stampede. These metal detectors are useful when the situation is critical, in which case police are instructed to check minutely.

SUKANYA SHETTY: CR has provided a special helpline number for women commuters. But we have seen many instances where help is not made available in a timely manner and several women claim the helpline is inefficient.

SJ: That is not the case. We have provided as much service as possible. In fact, government railway police personnel provide help instantly. It is never the case that there is no response to calls on the helpline. There have been instances where trivial complaints such as beggars entering trains have been made. Women commuters expect our personnel to shoo away beggars. Commuters should understand the deployment is for security.

MANASI PHADKE: Agencies implementing infrastructure projects in Mumbai say several times delay in clearances from railways holds up projects. A recent example could be Santacruz-Chembur Link Road where clearances from CR to build bridges over suburban railway tracks took years. Can a permanent solution be worked out to speed up infrastructure projects?

SJ: Give me one instance where CR hasn't issued clearance within a month. We don't keep such proposals pending. If we think the designs need to be changed as per safety requirements we tell the agencies. The commissioner of railway safety takes time to study the designs before approving as it is their job to look at safety issues. The delay is also from the side of the agencies. We gave clearances to Santacruz-Chembur Link Road a few months ago, but they still haven't started work.

MANASI PHADKE: The commissioner of railway safety is under the ministry of civil aviation. Does this hamper work and do you feel the need to have the commissioner under the ministry of railways?

SJ: The present arrangement works well for us as the minister can take decisions at his own pace independent of the railways. If it (the commissioner) was under the railways, there could be pressure to get proposals cleared soon.

SWATEE KHER: CR has huge heritage property, how do you maintain it and what sort of funding do you get?

SJ: The CST building is the only working heritage structure and it doesn't need UNESCO tag for maintenance. I sit in the office and hundreds of commuters book tickets at the counters under a unique tiled dome. We are proud of our heritage and efforts have been made to conserve it. We have deep pockets.

SUKANYA SHETTY: In the recent past, we have seen several graft cases registered against railway officials. CR had an embarrassing moment when its employees were named in the railway recruitment board scam. What mechanism is in place to ensure transparency?

SJ: On every ticket we have numbers displayed, making it easy for the public to reach us and alert us about corruption. It is a major problem the whole country is engulfed in, not just the railways. We do have a unit that looks into such complaints and as per the need, these grievances are redressed. If need be, a case is also registered. But to my knowledge, no case has been registered against CR officials in last few years.

SRINATH RAO: The railway ministry has installed bio-toilets on certain trains, do you plan to extend the facility to stations?

SJ: We have installed bio-toilets on Mahanagari Express. About building bio-toilets at stations, we have left the decision to whoever wins the contract.

MAYURA JANWALKAR: Do you think in future it would be possible to buy local train tickets online?

SJ: Even in the most advanced countries people use methods like smart card and vending machines for ticketing. Our system is centralised, so it would be difficult to have online ticketing.

SAGNIK CHOWDHURY: There is a perception that Western Railway is more commuter friendly and has better facilities than CR in the city. Why is CR lagging?

SJ: I admit this is a fact. But this is also because Western Railway has to deal with only a straight single line, whereas CR is more complex and has three lines to manage. CR is older but priority is always given to WR. Whenever new rakes are acquired, they are given to Western Railway first.

SAGNIK CHOWDHURY: Do you ever contest such preferential treatment?

SJ: When I was with Western Railway, I used to seek more coaches for WR. Now I am with CR and ask more coaches for it.

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