The recent blast at Central Station has seen the authorities take several half-hearted attempts at improving security in the station. This has also been repeated at Egmore. Rather than enhancing safety, all that these steps have achieved has been the creation of bottlenecks. And with vast crowds descending on the stations every day, the maintenance of even these levels of security will soon prove impossible.
Rather than taking such steps, the railways could have done better by decongesting the two stations by creating other boarding and disembarking points further down the line, within the periphery of the city. This plan, announced a long while ago, appears to have been given up halfway through.
Can the Central Station be made more secure by simply closing all entrances and exits barring one? Can a solitary baggage scanner detect explosives being secreted in a piece of baggage? Will two x-ray scan ners (only one of them working) be able to check every passenger and other people who enter the stations at all times of the day and night? These measures are laughably feeble, when you consider that 350,000 passengers use the Central Station every day. Probably a similar number of people use Egmore Station as well.
Even if there was no security threat, decongesting the two stations is a good exercise that should be taken up straightaway. One of the chief reasons why the stations are so full at any point of time is that passengers from all over the city have to come to only these two terminals to board trains. Trains coming into the city mostly stop at stations such as Perambur, Tambaram and Mambalam, but not so trains that are leaving Chennai. Consequently, people are left with no choice.
There was a time when the railways claimed that Perambur and Tambaram were being developed as alternative terminals for Central and Egmore respectively.
That, they said, would ease the pressure on the two principal stations. But this was never implemented in full. Passenger amenities, which are not satisfactory even at Egmore and Central, are practically non-existent in Perambur and Tambaram. Both the suburban stations have badly maintained platforms, no facilities for the physically otherwise abled, and have terrible access.
Those who live in the distant suburbs also complain that travelling to Egmore and Central beats the very economics of train travel. Taxi fare from, say, Tambaram to Central is now Rs. 500 or so. A railway ticket from Chennai to Bangalore in an AC chair car costs only Rs. 800! True, the railways provide feeder services by way of the local trains to help people residing in far-flung areas to come to the centre of the city, but given the conditions of the trains and the overbridges to be negotiated, how many people, especially those who are elderly or with baggage, choose to travel by local trains?
Bangalore, a city with even more traffic problems than ours, has now a system where several trains stop at the suburban stations of Cantonment, Krishnarajapuram and Bangalore East. This is both while entering and leaving the city. Even the Shatabdi Express from Chennai to Bangalore halts at Cantonment Station. However, it does not do so at Perambur!
The plan to develop Tambaram as a third terminal for the city failed for a simple reason – the authorities wanted to make it an alternative to Egmore. Trains would terminate at Tambaram and not come into Egmore. That was an impractical idea, as those who lived in the northern areas of the city would have to travel long distances. What is, on the other hand, needed is that trains should halt at Tambaram and then terminate at Egmore. More importantly, all trains leaving Egmore need to halt at Tambaram. A similar arrangement has to exist between Central and Perambur as well. Only if these arrangements are in place will our city’s principal railway terminals have less congestion and, therefore, less risk.