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Shatabdi schedule off track for a week, passengers hit

Siliguri, Nov. 29: Irregular service of the Howrah-New Jalpaiguri Shatabdi Express that travels between the two destinations in eight hours, has inconvenienced over 3,000 passengers over the past one week.

The train that runs six days a week (except Sundays) has got delayed on the onward and return trips almost four days.

According to the minister of state for railways, Adhir Chowdhury, the delay is because of “mechanical issues” like cleaning of rakes and maintenance (including gadgets) at NJP that takes around seven hours. He said officials had been instructed to reduce the time to four hours to regularise the services.

“In terms of category, Shatabdi Express is the top train in north Bengal. We have received specific complaints regarding the delay and that certain mechanical issues are delaying the train. Such delays are undesirable for trains like Shatabdi and instructions have been passed to the officials concerned to look into the issue,” Chowdhury said over the phone from Delhi today.

“We have asked the officials to ensure that the time taken for cleaning and maintenance is reduced to four hours instead of six-seven hours,” said the minister.

The train that was introduced on July 12 leaves NJP at 5.35am and reaches Howrah (600km away) at 1.20pm. It departs Howrah at 2.35pm and arrives at NJP at 10.20pm.

On Friday, the NJP-bound train reached at 2.30am, more than four hours behind the scheduled time.

On Saturday, passengers demonstrated and allegedly assaulted four railway staff members at NJP protesting the delay. The train was late by almost five hours that day and it left the station at 10.30am reaching Howrah at 7.05pm, six hours late.

“After the Shatabdi was introduced, several people, particularly businessmen, started taking it to return from Calcutta the same day. If the train runs on time, we get at least eight hours in Calcutta and can easily board the NJP-bound Padatik Express that leaves Sealdah at 10.45pm,” said Bikash Saha, a trader from Siliguri who visits Calcutta at least once a week.

“But Shatabdi is running late over the past few days, making it impossible for us to return the same day.”

Sources said almost 400 passengers take the train in each trip. The AC train has two classes. While the fare for the chair car is Rs 800 per person, the first class chair car costs Rs 1,100.

“There are certain places like the flower market in Howrah where the business starts early and gets over by noon. It was convenient to take the NJP-bound Shatabdi and reach home at night. The train is arriving at NJP past midnight now,” said Rajat Agarwal, a Siliguri resident.

Yesterday, the train left NJP at 10.15am. However, it left on time today.

“We are forming dedicated teams of mechanical staff for the maintenance of Shatabdi. It is the pride of north Bengal and we cannot let it get affected,” said B.D. Singh, the divisional mechanical engineer of NJP.

“Our men went to Rae Bareli and Kapurthala to get equipment to expedite maintenance. Engineers and officials from the Research Design and Standards Organisation of the railways are scheduled to visit here to look into the matter.” He said the sensor units in the rakes that display the train’s speed and some other machinery are malfunctioning. “We will soon be fully equipped with manpower and infrastructure, for prompt maintenance.”

Trinamul has accused the Centre and the railways of conspiring to scrap the train. “Such delays would discourage passengers. It seems that the railways and the Centre are trying to withdraw the services citing shortage of people as many have stopped boarding the train because of irregular services,” said Krishna Pal, the Darjeeling secretary general of the party.