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Station of horrors at Howrah
- Rail officials admit lapses, delays throw efficiency record off track

The Howrah division of Eastern Railway, once reputed for its operational efficiency, is fast degenerating into a system synonymous with administrative anarchy and poor services. Compared with it, the Sealdah division is turning into a model of management.

“Earlier, we would consider the Howrah division better managed than Sealdah, but we have had to change our opinion,” said a senior Eastern Railway officer.

He furnished a list of the kind of harassment a commuter has to face at Howrah station:

6Undue and frequent detention of trains before they enter the station at irritatingly low speed

6A public address system (PAS) that is audible but unclear

6Hawkers joining the blare of commercials on the TV sets in the platforms

6An unreliable electronic train-indicator board

6No easy access to the inquiry counter close to the platform

6Enigmatic silence maintained by railway staff when train services are disrupted

Eastern Railway’s divisional railway manager (Howrah) Swapan Chaudhury admitted that the “concord board”, indicating movement of trains, was yet to be set up because a Calcutta-based firm was taking considerable time to complete the software for the board.

“We have decided to undertake a final inspection on the performance of the electronic device soon. If not found okay, we will scrap the agreement with the infotech company,” he asserted. A sum of Rs 63 lakh has already been spent on developing the board over the past two years.

A senior rail traffic officer at Howrah, however, blamed the frequent detention of trains at the car shed on “human failure.” “The problem can be tackled if officers manning the control room are a little more sincere. Is there any justified reason for detaining a Howrah-bound local simply to allow a car shed-bound train to move'” he asked.

He also pointed out that frequent detention of trains from the car-shed to the home platform have never been reflected in railway records, as the guards as well as railway staff manning the station control and the route-relay interlocking cabin only record the running time up to the signal post.

The problem was typified by the experience gathered by Amitava Sarkar, a doctor from Dhanbad, who last month missed the Black Diamond Express at Howrah as the Down Katwa local he had boarded at Belur could enter the station only after the express train had departed.

“I never realised an EMU coach would take 25 minutes to cover a 1.5-km stretch between the car shed and the plaftorm. I will urge the railway authorities to print on the time-table cover a statutory directive to Howrah-bound commuters, advising them to be prepared to spend an additional 20 minutes on the train before reaching their destination,” Sarkar said.

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