The Signal’s Red
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In a few hours, Ashok Kumar Agrawala will live a nightmare, a station master's nightmare. A trainful of angry, frustrated, hungry, confused, weary and sweaty passengers will arrive on platform number four of Tatanagar Station in the steel city of Jamshedpur. Angry and travel-worn men in vests will complain about the lack of facilities, their women will sulk and worry about the depleting food reserves and the children—oh, they will just run wild on the platform. The New Delhi-Puri Purushottam Express, which usually has a 20-minute halt at the station at around 8.30 p.m. every night, will stop here overnight, till 5 a.m. on Friday morning to avoid the Naxals and their territory, the jungles that fall between Jhargram and Kalaikunda.
A day after Naxals derailed the Howrah-Mumbai Jnaneshwari Express on May 28, the South-Eastern Railway decided to suspend night trains in Maoist strongholds. "Three major trains, including the Utkal Express, have been diverted. Generally, nine Up trains and nine Down trains ply on this route. Most of their timings have been changed to avoid the 68-km Kharagpur-Adra stretch and the 300-km Kharagpur-Rourkela stretch, both Naxal strongholds," says Agrawala, sitting in his sparkling-clean office on platform number one of the station.
Thursday, 4 p.m.
The train is some hours away, so Agrawala has time to show us a "trophy". It's a plaque, really, which proclaims Tatanagar Station as the 'best maintained station of South Eastern Railway Division for the year 2009-2010'. Outside his office, all the six platforms of the station are bustling with the afternoon crowd.
"Around forty to fifty thousand people pass through this station every day. The traffic has almost doubled in the last 20 years," says Agrawala. Clearly, the station master is flush with success. And with good reason. Tatanagar is located on the Howrah-Mumbai line of the Indian Railways and is the second busiest station of South Eastern Railway after Howrah. Tatanagar handles around 140 trains—both goods and passenger—every day, says Agrawala.
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