The seating arrangement in the waiting rooms of the New Delhi Railway Station has been made in such a fashion that if a room fills to the capacity, it becomes congested and the passengers waiting there have to jostle for leg-space.
On a usual day, with moving traffic of passengers, the rooms don’t fill to capacity and there is no problem of leg-space.
But on days like these, when trains get delayed by the fog, it becomes a mess as passengers find it difficult to even walk.
“It’s really hard to wait here. The place is so congested that you can’t even put your luggage here. There’s no room for that. Everyone, including the authorities, knows that people are going to stay here. There should be some leg-space,” says Naushad Khan, who has been waiting for the Jammu Express for the last two hours.
A waiting room at the New Delhi station can pack up to 100 people at a time, with basic amenities such as food stalls, mobile charging points and washroom. Visitors, holding tickets, must pay Rs 10 an hour for waiting.
It is cramped up at full and in a season of fog, the passengers overflow onto the platforms.
Khan, who was travelling by Jammu Tawi Rajdhani Express, was among the many passengers who had come to the station on time to be on the safe side but had to wait due to delay. He complained that there were no updates on the station and waiting for too long in one of the busiest stations in the country came with its own problems.
“I am here with my wife and child. But my wife refuses to use the restroom, since it is in such a horrible shape. I, for one, am afraid to use the restroom,” said Khan, who felt that eventualities like delay due to the fog could be handled better.
While Khan was the lucky one as the source station was Delhi and he didn’t have to wait for long, there were others who sat in trains at the right time since they were arriving in Delhi from non-foggy areas and endured long hours of delay inside the train itself.
The Shan-e-Bhopal Express that runs between Bhopal and Delhi was delayed by seven hours on Monday, January 2.
It was expected to arrive in Delhi at 7.50 am in the morning but arrived around 3 pm.
Passengers waited inside the train and had to endure the train stopping for a long time at a non-descript station like Kitham – between Agra and Delhi — where there were no facilities for even tea.
“Overnight trains have no pantry and the cleaning staff is minimum unlike in long-distance trains. If it gets delayed, it becomes difficult,” complained a passenger.
The train coming from Bhopal was running well till Gwalior but got delayed after leaving the erstwhile capital of the Scindias as it entered northern India.
As many as 14-15 trains have been delayed or cancelled on a daily basis over these past few days owing to poor visibility, which has slowed the pace of north Indian railroads.
The delay of trains due to fog is expected to continue till January 25, said a railway official to Patriot.
According to the results of a poll conducted by the Rail Enquiry Portal, the average waiting time for passengers was 43 minutes in the month of December. Bihar Sampark Kranti Covid 19 was the biggest culprit in this with an average delay of four hours and 55 minutes.
The situation has worsened during these days of high fog and low visibility as the majority of the trains going are arriving late in the Capital as well as other stations in the Capital.
According to an elderly couple waiting for the North-East Express, “It is really difficult at our age to come and wait at the railway station in this chilly weather with luggage that must be kept safe as well as protected. We have no choice but to wait. We can’t even cancel the ticket since other mediums of travel are far too expensive, and the refund procedure is just too difficult for us ancient souls to comprehend.”
The duo appeared to be overwhelmed by the mass of travellers hurrying to get to the platforms on time, the coolies bartering with them as well as large queues on the platform ticket counters.
Ramprasad Singh, a passenger, said, “Aajkal to zamana bhi esa ho gaya hai ki aap kisi pe bharosa nahi kar sakte (the world has become such a place that you can’t even trust anyone). Even if we have to use the toilet, we have to be careful about leaving our bags behind. In such a situation, waiting for the train especially during the late night becomes really hard.”
Naresh Yadav, 56, who was waiting on the platform for his train, which was due to arrive in two hours, was one of those without any complaints.
He said that people need to take difficulties in their stride.
“The services at the station are fine. The trains will be delayed in this weather. It’s not the fault of the drivers. Fog and bad weather are natural occurrences in the winter. There are restrooms, benches to sit on, and food stalls to visit,” said Yadav.
“There are also air-conditioned waiting rooms where you can sit while you wait. This is a railway station, not a hotel. You can’t expect everything to be perfect,” he added before saying that things have improved over the years.
Yadav comes from Gorakhpur and he said that things in his hometown are far worse than here.
“My hometown is Gorakhpur, and I have been visiting my hometown every year for the last 15 years. When trains would get delayed, we had to wait there too. We don’t have these many facilities. We had benches, and those were iron benches that were very cold to sit on,” he added.
He said that things have improved not just here, but in his hometown too.
“Now go around and have a look,” he said. “You’ll see things are more organised and better, and we’re still trying to make things better. People should be considerate and not blame the authorities for everything.”
On the contrary
Anil Kumar, deputy superintendent of the New Delhi Railway Station, told Patriot, “Almost every train scheduled is getting delayed. Most of them have been cancelled because of the fog and it is totally natural and something that cannot be controlled.”
Kumar did not agree with the criticism of some of the passengers regarding facilities. He said that it is also the responsibility of the passengers to maintain platforms and keep them clean.
“The arrangements are adequate and we keep a regular check on them. But it is also the responsibility of the passengers to take good care of the railway property which majority of the people don’t do,” he said.
Kumar explained that the reason behind delay in train journey is passengers’ safety.
“We are forced to slow down because we don’t want our passengers to get hurt. Usually, the trains are delayed at night and morning, especially in the winters but this year, the visibility has been so bad especially in northern states that during day-time as well, the engine drivers have had to be cautious. All of that causes delay not just in arrival and departure but the whole journey,” he added.
“I’ve been working with the railway department for 14 years, and there have been awful tragedies that have claimed the lives of both passengers and railway personnel, but things have begun to improve and are more organised,” said Kumar further.
Kumar narrated an accident from the past caused due to fog, which has forced them to take precautions.
“Our employees, Ajit and Kishor (names changed), were trying to separate the merged tracks so that the train travelling over them does not derail or, worse, collide with the passing trains,” he recalled.
“It was approximately 3 a.m. and the train was due to arrive at 4 a.m. But the train arrived early, and at that time, the fog was so heavy that you couldn’t see anything.
“Ajit and Kishore didn’t see or even hear the train coming, nor did the driver notice them. The two were mowed down and killed. They were both young and had a whole life ahead of them. So, I don’t think anyone should have a problem with us going slow as a precaution to save thousands of lives,” he added.
The Railways also follows the old practice of using fire-crackers during heavy fog.
According to reports, the Delhi division of the Railways buys over a lakh crackers every year to handle the fog.
“Firecrackers still assist us in navigating in fog. Firecrackers are attached to the tracks before a station signal. As the train passes over the tracks, they explode. The explosion signals the train’s driver to slow down,” explained Kumar
“Typically, the crackers are set off 300 to 500 metres in front of an electric signal. When there is fewer than 250 metres of vision owing to intense fog, drivers benefit from the sound of fireworks. The driver also uses the siren, a portable device. It emits music and flashes lights to warn the driver,” concluded Kumar.
The crew is also given a signal location booklet telling them about the signals. If they can’t view it, then they have to slow down.
However, despite all the precautions, delaying the train is the best way to ensure safety even if it causes some delay to the passengers.