As curbs on suburban trains persist, commuters face hardship

Many point to the fact that the State government has allowed 100% occupancy in public transport services as a good enough reason to do away with the restrictions

The Tamil Nadu government has unlocked nearly all commercial activity, except for IT offices and some sections in schools, but the retention of certain restrictions in the city’s suburban trains has put hundreds of commuters in a quandary.

There is a growing demand from commuters for the complete removal of restrictions and resumption of normal suburban train operations. The demand from thousands of commuters comes from the fact that the State government has allowed 100% occupancy in public transport services, including in buses run by the Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC). As per railway sources, the occupancy in the workmen special trains were 2 lakh against the 6 lakh footfall seen during pre-pandemic times.

Hundreds of commuters not eligible to use the workmen special trains are facing severe inconvenience. Those from far off suburbs and daily wage earners are the ones most affected by the travel curbs. Students, mainly boys, have been added to the list after the State government announced the opening of colleges from Monday.

Suburban train services have been the only mode of commute for those coming to the city from places like Arakkonam, Thiruvallur, Avadi, Kancheepuram, Chengalpattu, Guduvancherry and Tambaram. Moreover, as the suburban train services are the cheapest public transport even compared to the MTC, commuters want the curbs to be removed at the earliest. Several train commuters’ associations have appealed to the Chennai division of the Southern Railway to remove the curbs prohibiting the general public from travelling during the peak hours — 7 a.m. to 9.30 a.m. and 4.30 p.m. to 7 p.m. These travel restrictions have resulted in unprecedented queues in several ticket counters in the railway stations and heated arguments with the ticketing staff, allege commuters.

S. Anbarasan, a construction worker who regularly commutes from Tiruvallur, said before the COVID-19 pandemic, he was travelling by suburban train to reach his place of work in south Chennai but because of the travel restrictions during peak hours, he was forced to either commute by bus or his own vehicle, resulting in an expenditure of over ₹100 per day.

K.S. Gopalakrishnan, a railway activist from Pattabiram, said when the State government had allowed bus operations with full capacity in the State, the Southern Railway should also ease travel restrictions. He pointed out that thousands residing in the western suburbs, where bus facilities are poor and expensive, had been severely affected by the curbs.

Several railway users’ associations of Thruvallur, Thiruninravur, Arakkonam and southern sectors had sent petitions to the General Manager and Divisional Railway Manager of the Southern Railway highlighting the hardships faced by the commuters. They also want the return and season tickets to be issued to all commuters. Commuters also insist that the State government recommend resumption of normal suburban train services to the Union Railway Minister.

A senior official of Southern Railway said any direction to relax the restrictions and operation of normal suburban train services would have to come from the Railway Board and would be based on the request of the State government.

Regarding any request sent by the State government to the Railway Board, the official said they did not have any information on the subject.

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