Kottayam: A few days after the Kerala Human Rights Commission registered a case in Kozhikode against halting other trains for Vande Bharat Express, the Southern Railway claimed that no train's schedule was compromised in Kerala for Vande Bharat trains. In a press note issued on Friday, the Southern Railway stated that the speed of certain trains has been increased after introducing Vande Bharat to help those trains reach their destination on time. “No detention of any train is being done to give preference for running of Vande Bharat trains,” said the Railway.
Quoting the example of a few trains, Southern Railway said, “The scheduled departure time of Venad Express from Thiruvananthapuram Central was rescheduled from 5.15 am to 5.25 am but its arrival time at Ernakulam and Shoranur stations remains the same. The Ernakulam Jn – Alappuzha train is rescheduled to start from Ernakulam Jn at 6.25pm and yet it reaches the destination at its old timing at 9.05pm, thus speeding up by 20 minutes.” It also claimed that the speed of Ernakulam–Kayamkulam passenger has gone up. The Kozhikode-Thiruvananthapuram Jan Shatabdi Express and Rajadhani Express are running on time, according to the Railways.
The changes are apparently part of the recently publicised timetable. “During the month of October there has been comparatively an adverse impact on the punctuality of trains due to incessant rain, waterlogging of pitlines in Kochuveli, landslide that occurred between Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam section and Thiruvananthapuram and Nagercoil section,” the press note said. However, the punctuality rate was at 100% last week, the note claimed. Between October 20 and 26, the Alappuzha– Kannur Express, Ernakulam–Kayankulam Express special, Thiruvananthapuram–Guruvayur Express, Mangalore-Nagercoil Ernad Express and Nagercoil-Kottayam Express were on time, said Railways.
Passengers beg to differ
According to passengers, the truth on the ground is different from Railway's claims. Ajitha Kalavoor, a passenger who regularly travels on the Alappuzha – Ernakulam memu, said her passenger was already 15 minutes late on Saturday morning while she spoke to us from the train. “It is worse in the evenings. Our difficulties increased after the launch of Vande Bharat. Though passenger trains had to wait for trains like Jan Shatabdi to cross even before, the waiting time has increased now. For instance, even when our memu starts on time from Ernakulam, it is made to halt at Kumbalam for up to 45 minutes for Vande Bharat regularly.”
Ajitha, who is also part of the All Kerala Railway Passengers Association, observed that letting fast trains pass through single-line routes like these is also not right. “It can potentially be dangerous in the future,” she said. Ajitha listed several other issues like passengers missing the buses they need to take to workplaces or homes, after the train journey. “There are buses that depend quite a bit on train passengers, but they are forced to leave without their regular passengers when trains are late. Some of the train passengers are now getting down at stations much ahead of their destinations and taking buses to reach offices or homes, as they know they will have to wait for Vande Bharat to cross,” said Ajitha.
Regarding the Railway's claims that the trains are reaching their destination on time even when they leave late, All Kerala Railway Passengers Association President K J Paul Manvettom said, “They might be referring to the buffer time arrangement, which is given to the trains in addition to the actual time to reach stations. If a train that has to reach Ernakulam at 10 am reaches 10 or 15 minutes late, it may make up the time later in the journey and reach the final destination on time. However, for an office goer, who gets down in between, it's still an inconvenience.”