Category Archives: Railway

Work starts in Kolkata for India’s first under-river Metro tunnel


IT was in 1984 that Kolkata had gifted India the country’s first Metro railway. Now, 33 years down the line, the City of Joy has added another first to India’s urban transportation landscape.

The public sector Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation Ltd today, 14 April 2017, commenced work on digging up under river Metro rail tunnels that will connect Howrah to Salt Lake via north Kolkata.

The 520 metre long twin river tunnels, passing under the Hooghly river, are part of East-West Metro Corridor that KMRCL is constructing since 2009. The 16.55 km Metro corridor is to run from Salt Lake Sector-V to Howrah Maidan.

Today morning, KMRCL organised a puja at Ramkrishnapur Ghat located opposite to Howrah railway station on Hooghly river bank, seeking blessings of the river God. Following this, a tunnel boring machine ceremoniously began the tunnelling work.

“This is happening for the first time in the country. We have made all necessary arrangements to ensure safety of our workers and complete the task smoothly,” project manager Virendra Kaul said.

The proposed tunnels will be dug about 90 feet or 18 metres below the Hooghly river. They will run from below Howrah station post office at Howrah station-end, to Armenian Ghat, at Kolkata-end, about a 1-km away from the business hub Burrabazar.

Of the two underwater tunnels, one is for Howrah-bound Metro trains; the other is for Salt Lake-bound trains. KMRCL officials said that 250 workers will be working on the tunnels on a daily basis.

The target is to place 10 concrete rings a day, each of which measures 1.5 metres. Project engineers said that at this rate they should be able to complete the 520 metre twin tunnels in the next three months, that is, by end June.

Once this happens, Kolkata would have added yet another feather to its glory. People, however, shall have to wait at least until 2020 to ride a Metro train passing below the Hooghly river.

KMRCL has plans to throw open a near 7 km stretch from Salt Lake to Phoolbagan, off Sealdah station, by end 2018. The stretch between Phoolbagan to Howrah Maidan via Sealdah shall have to wait for the work to get completed.

(Author is editor, NEWSMEN, Kolkata. This report first appeared on on 14 April 2017.)



Indian Railways scraps Mamata Banerjee PPP medical college plan

By bappaditya paul

RAILWAYS ministry has dropped the plan for upgrade of railway hospitals into medical colleges in public private partnership (PPP) as was announced by Mamata Banerjee in the 2009-10 Railways Budget.

This after the ministry later found out that the Medical Council of India rules did not permit PPP with government hospitals anywhere in the country. Indian Railways and all its wings are owned by the Central government.

The matter came to light on Friday when the minister of state for railways, Manoj Sinha, replied to a query put forward by CPI-M Rajya Sabha MP Ritabrata Banerjee.

Ritabrata had sought to know if the Railways has set up any medical college in West Bengal as was announced by then railways minister Mamata Banerjee in her Budget speech during the UPA-II regime.

Answering the query, Sinha replied: “The then Honourable Minister of Railways during her Budget speech 2009-10 had announced ‘Medical colleges are planned to be established attached to existing railway hospitals through PPP, to give higher education facilities to new generation of railway children.”


“As per Medical Council of India rules, Public Private Partnership (PPP) with Government (Railway) hospital is not permitted. The Ministry have, therefore, dropped the proposal of setting up of Railway Medical Colleges.”  

Ritabrata posted on his Twitter handle minister Sinha’s printed reply, and wrote: “Ministry of Railways – setting up of Med Colleges by our CM is not permitted at all! D cat is out of d bag!!”

It may be recalled that Mamata Banerjee as the Railways minister in 2009-10 announced that she had plans to upgrade a number of railway hospital in West Bengal, including the Tapan Sinha Memorial Hospital of Metro Railway in Kolkata, into medical colleges.

West Bengal has a number of super speciality railway hospitals, namely, the BR Singh Hospital at Sealdah, Railway Orthopaedic Hospital at Howrah, Central Hospital Garden Reach, NF Railway Hospital at New Jalpaiguri etc. 

(Bappaditya Paul is editor NEWSMEN. This article first appeared on NEWSMEN on 12 March 2016.)


Ladies Corner

Vidya Balan Collage

By bappaditya paul

MANY of you, who even have the remotest connection to Bengal and are active on social sharing media such as WhatsApp and Facebook, must have come across the image featured above, several times in the recent past.

This a collage of two different photographs of Bollywood actress Vidya Balan ~ the first one from a photo-shoot and the second one a still from her 2007 box office hit Bhool Bhulaiya.

While the image is going round in social media for fun, it aptly makes a pointed comment on the dire state of rail travel in passenger trains that connect Kolkata to the suburbs.

Scores of people travel every day in local trains over the Sealdah and Howrah rail divisions, to commute to office and work and then return home. But the dearth of sufficient number of trains, make them commute like hordes of lesser mortals packed in a box.

Over time, this has become a common scene on all trains plying to and from Kolkata, especially during the morning office hours and the evening home return hours. The scene in the trains on Sealdah-Bongaon, Sealdah-Dankuni, Sealdah-Barasat and Sealdah-Ranaghat is worst, to say the least.

Late running of trains, which has become a routine in the past few months, is only worsening the situation. Men literally struggle to get a toe hold on the trains; women find it no less than being molested when they travel in a general compartment.

In such a dismal state, the ladies special trains ~ Matribhoomi Local ~ introduced by Mamata Banerjee when she was railway minister, has been a relief of sort for thousands of women who need to travel daily for office and education.

Thus, it is no wonder that they reacted sharply by resorting to rail blockades at several stations in North 24-Parganas district when the railway threw open some compartments of ladies special trains for men. The decision has now been repealed with effect from 24 August on the face of the vehement opposition.

The opposition was such that violent retaliation by male commuters had failed to make the women backtrack, be it from their demand or from the rail tracks, quite literally. And mind you! This is without the presence of a political banner over their head, in a state where politics is a part of every aspect of life.

True, the women have reclaimed their exclusive claim to the ladies special trains, but male passengers are now accusing them of demanding too much of comfort in public transport.

But does the accusation hold merit?

To examine this, we need to have a relook at Eastern Railway’s recent move vis-à-vis allowing men to travel in ladies special trains.

Going by this, in case of 12-coach ladies special trains, 6 middle coaches were opened to men. This is in addition to the two coaches that have all through been reserved for vendors.

In case of 10-coach trains, four middle coaches were made available to male commuters, beside the two more coaches that were marked for vendors. Likewise, in case of 9-coach trains, men were allowed to board three middle coaches and here too, two coaches have all along been reserved for vendors.

Thus, the move effectively left women passengers with only four coaches reserved for them in the ladies special trains, thus screwing up the very purpose of running a ladies special. When the women realised that they would now have to jostle for a space in trains run in their name; they took to the tracks on justified grounds.

But here’s a counter to this explanation! Why it is then that there was no fuss from the women passengers when the railway had permitted men to travel in ladies special trains in the Sealdah south section and in Howrah division, almost a year ago?

There are two answers to this.

In Howrah division, the number of local trains is higher than Sealdah. Besides, passengers in Howrah have the additional option to travel in general compartments of long distance trains that halt at most stations along the Howrah chord and main line.

As to why the women commuters in Sealdah south section did not protest the dilution of ladies special trains, one would need to study the class character of the women in South 24-Parganas.

A major chunk of women passengers in Sealdah south, whose main arteries run across the South 24-Pargans district, belong to economically and educationally weaker strata of the society. Most of them travel to Kolkata to sell agriculture produce. While they are used to the hardships of life, lack of education limit their capacity to protest.

This is not to suggest that there are no educated and office-going women in South 24-Pargans or that they do not travel by trains. But the number is much less.

In comparison, North 24-Pargans district has many industrial belts dotting around the railway network and the women who take the trains from there are mostly educated, at least a vast majority of them are.

They travel to go to office ~ both public and private, or for education. These women are aware of their rights and have the voice to protest. This is exactly what they recently did to oppose the dilution of ladies special trains.

It is true that the men in Bengal travel in trains in more difficult situation than the women and to reduce their plight, there is a need to increase the number of trains and run them punctually.

Curtailing on the women’s public space, what Eastern Railway had tried to do, is certainly not the answer.

(Bappaditya Paul is editor of NEWSMEN, West Bengal, India. This article first appeared on on 22 August 2015) 


E-taxi service: Poila Baishak ride from Howrah rly station

Taxis line up in front of Howrah railway station.
Taxis line up in front of Howrah railway station. File photo.


By bappaditya paul

GOOD NEWS FOR PASSENGERS travelling to Howrah railway station ~ one of the busiest and the largest railway station in India!

Howrah City Police in collaboration with the railways is introducing an E-taxi service for train passengers, using which people can book prepaid taxis online 60 days in advance of their arrival at Howrah station.

The service will be launched on Wednesday on Poila Baishak (Bengali New Year) by Howrah Police Commissioner Ajey Mukund  Ranade  and Howrah Divisional Railway Manager R Badri Narayan.

The initiative, a first at a railway station in India, is expected to come in handy for thousands of passengers who arrive at Howrah railway station everyday and are required to queue up for up to 45 minutes to get a cab.

As of now, passengers have the option to book a cab using radio taxi services such as Megacabs, Ola Cab etc 48-hour in advance, but are required to pay parking charges, and waiting fee when a train arrives behind schedule. Most radio taxi providers close modifications in bookings an hour before the original requisition time for a cab.

Howrah City Police logoUnder the E-taxi service of Howrah City Police, passengers will not be required to pay any such charges even if their train is delayed for hours altogether. The fare charged will be the one in force for regular taxis plying in Kolkata as prescribed by the  Bengal government’s Transport Department, plus a 10 rupees service charge.

To book an E-taxi all that a person needs to do is visit the Howrah City Police’s official website  and click the Book Prepaid Taxi icon and enter date-time, destination, mobile number and email ID.

The moment one selects a destination, the system will automatically display the prescribed fare and the payment can be made using debit/credit card or through online banking of 57 nationalised and private banks. Once the payment is made, a code would be automatically sent to the passenger’s mobile number and e-mail ID.

“On arriving at Howrah station, the passenger will enter the code on a specially designed kiosk that we have installed near the exits of the old and new station buildings. Within seconds two paper slips will be dispensed by the kiosk mentioning the taxi number and lane where the taxi is stationed,” explained the DC (Traffic) of Howrah City Police, Sumit Kumar.

Howrah Prepaid Taxi booth.
Howrah Prepaid Taxi booth.

“Of the two slips dispensed by the kiosk, one will be driver’s copy to be handed over by the passenger on reaching destination,” he said adding, ” We have a pool of 6,000 private taxis whose status get automatically updated on our server once they pass through the Radio Frequency Identification bar gates that are installed at Howrah station’s taxi-bays.”

To begin with, the Howrah Police have installed two kiosks procured from Hyderabad-based Analogics Tech India Ltd; they plan to install four more kiosks over the next few months.

The E-taxi service will run parallel to the four manual Pre-paid taxi booking booths that are functional at Howrah station for the past few years.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 15 April 2015.)


Kolkata Metro increases weekend trains from today

A Kolkata Metro train. File photo.
A Kolkata Metro train. File photo.

By bappaditya paul

BEGINNING TODAY (Saturday, 4 March) Metro Railway, Kolkata has increased the number of trains on weekends.

Now on, Metro Railway will operate 224 trains every Saturday instead of the previous 206 trains. On Sundays, the number of trains will be 110 as against the previous 94.

The minimum and maximum frequency of trains on Saturdays will be 7 minutes and 15 minutes, respectively; on  Sundays it will be 10 minutes and 20 minutes. Prior to this, the train frequency on Saturday ranged between 7 to 20 minutes and on Sunday it was between 15 to 30 minutes.

The increase in number of trains on weekends comes as a great relief for commuters who had been compelled to travel in crammed Metro coaches with the ever swelling crowd.

Metro Railway carries an average of 4.83-lakh passengers on Saturdays; on Sundays, it transports around 2.53 lakh passengers. As against this, the number of people travelling by Metro on weekdays is around 5.72 lakh when the number of trains operated is 274 a day.


Pvt investors cold to Howrah, Sealdah Railway lounge project

By bappaditya paul

The Railways’ plan to set up airport-styled executive lounges for passengers at Howrah and Sealdah railway stations in public-private-partnership (PPP) has hit a stumbling block due to a lukewarm response from private investors. Howrah StationThe Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), which had last October floated tenders inviting bids from private firms to develop and operate the proposed executive lounges for five-years said that while only one firm had bid for the lounge at Howrah; there was no bidder for the one proposed at Sealdah.

IRCTC officials say that private investors are shying away from the lounge project mainly because of the five-year contract period that the Railways’ have stipulated.

The proposed lounges, with an average capacity to seat 50 passengers at a time, are to be equipped with television, air-conditioner, room heater, wifi, washrooms with shower facility and a dedicated food-beverage supply mechanism. A passenger, while waiting for her train, can use the lounge for a charge. IRCTCEastern Railway authorities identified the sites for the proposed lounges ~ near Platform No 12 at Howrah and at the existing second class waiting room on Sealdah station building’s first floor. The initial target was to commission the lounges by mid 2015 but a lukewarm response from private investors has pushed the project to a limbo.

“Prospective investors are finding the five-year contract period too short a time to recover the money that they will be investing in developing the lounge and make a reasonable profit,” said Mr Subrata Banerjee, the deputy general manager (licensing) of IRCTC east zone in Kolkata. “The scenario is same as regards the other executive lounge projects planned at the railway stations in Visakhapatnam, Patna, Guwahati etc and our corporate headquarters has taken up the matter with the Railway Board.”   Sealdah StationTo attract private investors, IRCTC wants the Railway Board to revisit the contract period and extend the tenure by a few years, even if on a case-to-case basis. “I am not aware of any decision on this by the Railway Board as the matter is being handled by our corporate headquarters. All I can say for now is that the tenders for the executive lounges are under process,” Mr Banerjee said.

At present, the New Delhi Railway station has an executive lounge for passengers, functional for nearly three years now.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 18 February 2015.)


Weekend ordeals to continue


By bappaditya paul
NOTWITHSTANDING THE RUSH of passengers on weekends, Metro Railway is hesitant to increase the number of trains. Metro trains are badly crowded on weekends, which turn the ride into an ordeal for commuters.A Kolkata Metro trainUntil June, the logic was that before increasing the number of trains Metro wanted to weigh the impact of an imminent bus fare hike on its passengers. Now that the bus fare in Kolkata has gone up since 1 September, Metro authorities say that they need to work out whether increasing the number of trains on weekends will be feasible given the shortage of train drivers and rakes.

According to the latest figures, Metro Railway is now carrying an average of 4.83-lakh passengers on Saturdays while running 206 trains. On Sundays, it transports around 2.53 lakh passengers with the number of trains being 94. As against this, the number of people travelling by Metro on weekdays is around 5.72 lakh when the number of trains operated is 274 daily. Kolkata Metro AC rakeGoing by this, the average number of commuters per Metro train on Saturday is 2,345; on Sunday it is 2,691, and on weekdays it stands at 2,088.  A Kolkata Metro train that runs with eight coaches is designed to carry a maximum 2,558 passengers. This makes it clear that an increase in number of Metro trains on weekends is only reasonable, but the authorities are still hesitant.

Metro Railway general manager Mr Radhey Shyam said that several factors needed to be taken into consideration before introducing more trains on weekends. “We need to work out whether it will be feasible to run more trains with the present manpower and infrastructure. Besides, we also need to keep in mind that the overall number of passengers has dropped in the past year,” he said.Kolkata Metro AC trainThe fact, however, is that the fall in Metro passengers ~ by about a lakh ~ was the result of a steep hike in Metro fare implemented in November 2013. But this has proved a boon for Metro trains that were failing to meet the burden of nearly 6.5 lakh passengers on a weekday, as there is a shortage of rakes. In fact, Metro’s passenger revenue has gone up.

Mr Shyam ruled out the possibility of extending the run of all Metro trains up to Noapara for want of sufficient passengers. At present, only 50 trains ply up to and from Noapara on weekday, 42 trains on Saturday and 48 trains on Sunday.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report was first published in The Statesman on 21 November 2014.)


Railways cheats passenger!


By bappaditya Paul
TRAVEL AGENTS DUPING PEOPLE with fake train tickets is nothing new but Indian Railways’ own booking counter cheating a passenger surely is.      The South Eastern Railway (SER) reservation counter at Old Koilaghat Building in Kolkata has allegedly cheated a passenger by cancelling his journey when the man still has the original ticket in possession.Indian Railways logoThis led to the passenger paying twice for the same journey from New Delhi to Kolkata. He also failed to attend an important event in Howrah that he was invited to.   On receiving a complaint from the passenger, SER’s chief commercial manager (CCM) has now ordered a probe into the matter asking for report within seven days.

According to Mr Fazlur Rahman, a resident of Belurmath in Howrah, he had booked two tickets from counter No. 12 at Old Koilaghat Building around 9 a.m. on 26 October.

Of them, one was for travel from Sealdah to New Delhi by Duronto Express on 6 November (PNR: 633-4903305); the second one was a return ticket from New Delhi to Howrah by Rajdhani Express on 10 November (PNR: 236-4061297).

“The return ticket status was RAC. But when I went to New Delhi railway station to board Rajdhani Express on 10 November, I could not find my name in the passenger chart. I went to the chief station manager (CSM) office and after enquiry they told me that my ticket was cancelled from the same reservation office on the day of booking itself,” said Mr Rahman, a teacher by profession. New Delhi Railway stationBoth the CSM office staff and Mr Rahman were left puzzled at the discovery because he still had the original train ticket with him. The Rajdhani Express in the meantime departed from New Delhi station and

Mr Rahman was left stranded. “I lodged a complaint with the CSM office and requested them to facilitate me a ticket in some other train departing the same night. They were very considerate and issued me a confirmed ticket on Sealdah Duronto Express. For this, I had to pay Rs 2,035, which is the fare for a 3AC ticket,” he said.

After returning to Kolkata, Mr Rahman tried to unravel the mystery but was unsuccessful. The 43-year-old teacher says that while booking his ticket on 26 October at Old Koilaghat, the reservation clerk had entered his name wrong which he spotted on the counter’s display board and had got the name corrected by approaching the chief reservation supervisor (CRS) although the clerk was averse to the idea.Old Koilaghat Building“I don’t know whether the official cancelled my ticket in anger over this.”
Those working at railway reservation counters say that to cancel a ticket a clerk is required to get a cancellation slip filled-in by the passenger and also the original ticket. The clerk retains these and the passenger is issued a cancellation ticket mentioning the refund amount etc.

“On rare occasions, when a clerk misplaces or forgets to retain an original ticket, the CRS of that reservation office is required to mention this in the daily closing statement that is sent to the headquarters. But it cannot happen that both the cancellation slip and the original ticket will go missing at the same time,” said a reservation officer.

The CCM of South Eastern Railway, Mr Suchitto Kumar Das, today ordered a probe into the matter after Mr Rahman lodged a complaint with him on 14 November. “I have asked the CCM (Passenger Services) to probe this within seven days. The truth will surely come out,” Mr Das said over the telephone.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report was first published in The Statesman on 19 November 2014.)


Maitree Express soon to run thrice a week


By bappaditya paul

The railway authorities of India and Bangladesh have decided to increase the frequency of Maitree Express that plies between Kolkata and Dhaka, by one more day a week. A formal announcement on this is soon expected from the Railway Board in New Delhi. Maitree Express in BangladeshMaitree Express, introduced on 14 April 2008, now runs twice a week from both directions. From Kolkata it runs on Tuesday and Saturday; from Dhaka it plies on Wednesday and Friday. The plan is to run it one more day a week ~ on Sunday from Kolkata and on Monday from Dhaka.

To discuss necessary preparations for the increase in frequency, the railway officials of Bangladesh and India today held a meeting at Sealdah in Kolkata. The Bangladesh Railway delegation was led by its divisional railway manager (DRM) for Paksey, Mr Musharaff Hussain; Indian side was headed by the Sealdah DRM, Ms Jaya Varma Sinha. The meeting was held in Sealdah DRM office. Maitree Express route“It was a co-ordination meeting at the DRM level and we discussed all issues including the frequency increase of Maitree Express. It has been decided in-principle to run the train on one more day but a date for this will be formally announced by the Railway Board in New Delhi,” Ms Sinha said.

She said that while on the operational side the railways of both the countries were in a position to augment the frequency right way, it might take some more time to happen, as it was an inter-ministerial matter involving Immigration, Customs and the Union Home Ministry.

Meanwhile, while the frequency increase waits to happen, beginning 12 November, Bangladesh Railway has augmented the number of coaches in Maitree Express from previous six to seven. Indian Railways had added one coach to its previous six-coach rake on 23 September.Dhaka stationThe move comes in the wake of a significant leap in passenger occupancy in Maitree Express. In 2013-14, the train had registered 68 per cent monthly occupancy from Kolkata; until September this fiscal year, the monthly occupancy stood at 85 per cent. From Dhaka, the train had registered 73 per cent monthly occupancy in 2013-14; until September this fiscal year, the monthly occupancy stood at 86 per cent.

Apart from Maitree Express that plies via the Gede border in Nadia district, three goods trains also ply between India and Bangladesh daily on an average. While two goods trains run via Gede; one goods train operate via the Petrapole border in North 24-Parganas district.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 14 November 2014.)


Reel and reality of Kolkata Metro help-lines


By bappaditya paul
A young woman travelling in a crowded Metro train is being constantly shoved by a man; she feels uncomfortable and moves away. The man repositions himself and continues to harass the woman, compelling her to directly ask him to behave. But this warning too going in vain, the woman rings up the Metro Help Line from her mobile phone. Officials manning the help line acts promptly and the man is arrested by Railway Protection Force the moment he steps of out of the train at a next Metro station.No Signal 1This is a promotional video that Metro Railway airs day in and day out on TV sets installed on platforms of all its stations. Now cut to the reality:

Last Monday, Antara Kanungo (24) boarded a Metro from Netaji (Kudghat) station for Central and got a corner seat in the ladies’ section. A flock of young men boarded the train from Rabindra Sarobar and stood huddling together beside the door; one of them rested his back on the handrail of Antara’s seat. She requested the youth to stand straight; instead of obliging, he gave her a dirty look and asked her to travel by taxi if she was averse to such touch. A co-traveller voiced a protest only to be booed down by the loutish youths.

Outraged, Antara dialed the Metro Help Line from her mobile but alas there is no signal on her Vodafone connection! The co-passenger with Airtel connection offers help but the signal fails her as well.No signal woman“I felt so helpless. The man got down at Esplanade much before I stepped out on the Central station platform and my phone’s signal became live again,” Antara said in a frustrated tone.

It is, however, not an issue with Vodafone or Airtel signal alone; mobile signal of no operator is available in Metro trains when they pass through tunnels. Signals are partially available only on Kolkata Metro ticketing areas and platforms where the operators have installed “repeaters or micro BTS” for which they pay an annual license fee to Metro Railway. These repeaters or micro BTS have a low coverage area.

But as if oblivious of this, Metro Railway in January this year introduced two help lines ~ a Women Help Line and Security Help Line ~ to enable passengers to contact from moving train should there be a need.

The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), whose members include almost all big private mobile operators, are not willing to shoulder the blame.
“There is no (mobile) signal as the tunnels are not wired with network,” said Mr V K Cherian, COAI’s director corporate communications, without clarifying whether their members would take initiative to address the issue.No SignalAsked about the modalities on which private operators were charged for installing micro BTSs at Metro stations and why they were failing to ensure connectivity inside the tunnels, Metro Railway’s Chief Traffic Manager (CTM) Mr K V Rao, refused to respond. “This is not linked to public interest and hence I will not respond,” Mr Rao said in a rude tone unbecoming of a senior railway officer. In Metro it is the CTM who looks after all commercial aspects such as renting out a space or facility to a private entity.

Metro Railway spokesperson, Mr R N Mahaptra, however, said that they were “working closely with all operators to ensure mobile connectivity inside the tunnels.”

In December 2013, at a cost of Rs 18-crore, Metro had introduced in its trains and tunnels a dedicated internal mobile telecommunications facility called GSM-R for the use of its train drivers. Metro sources said that the plan now was to lease out a bandwidth from GSM-R to the private mobile operators so that they could provide connectivity to the subscribers.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 3 August 2014.)