The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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President goes, so does rail facade

Patna Junction/New Delhi, June 1: The Kalam effect lasted all of five minutes after the President switched tracks and took a plane out of the railway minister’s home state.

Five minutes into A.P.J Abdul Kalam’s conclusion of the Bihar tour — the high point of which was a one-hour rail ride — a power breakdown threw into disarray schedules of as many as 15 trains. When the trains finally left, one of them jumped rails, killing one and injuring 24.

Railway minister Nitish Kumar had virtually made Kalam the brand ambassador for the utility, requesting the President to “travel more by train” so that “others will feel proud” and follow him.

But few at Patna Junction were feeling proud last night. As soon as Kalam left, Nitish’s department slipped back to its familiar ways, reminding passengers how they are different from the passenger-President.

Among the 15 trains that were stranded four km from Patna station because of the power outage was the Patna-New Delhi Rajdhani Express.

The public address system at the station kept informing hapless passengers every 30 minutes that the trains would reach the platform in another half-an-hour.

This is a ploy some stations use to deny refunds and keep their income on track. According to rules, a full refund has to be made to passengers with reserved tickets only if the train is delayed by more than three hours. By delaying the train only “30 minutes” on record, the railway can try to weather refund clamours.

Around midnight, passengers of 2391 Up Magadh Vikramshila Express — the train which jumped tracks later — forced the authorities to open a refund counter. However, the cell doubled as an enquiry counter, too, making it almost impossible for passengers to worm their way through the crowd and seek refunds.

“They fooled us by saying that the train is in the yard and it will reach the platform in another 30 minutes. Why can’t the railway at least tell the truth so that we can take a decision'” asked Shekhar Pandey, an accountant in Delhi, who was waiting for the Rajdhani.

Pandey’s train did leave the station — at 1.15 am, instead of the scheduled 9.15 pm.

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