It was a Friday fraught with frustration for commuters on Eastern and South Eastern Railway trains as work on the route relay interlocking (RRI) system paralysed services at Howrah.
Passengers were stranded for hours, from early on Friday. The alternative arrangements made by the rail authorities, in collaboration with the state government, proved inadequate.
As per plans, platforms one to eight were shut down and several passenger trains were cancelled at Howrah. But the authorities’ claims that the remaining passengers would face no trouble proved hollow as most trains ran well behind schedule.
“Local trains have been running 15 to 30 minutes late due to the switch to the RRI system,” said Swapan Chowdhury, Howrah divisional railway manager (DRM). Some angry commuters, however, claimed that trains were delayed for up to two hours.
Eastern Railway officials said 44 pairs of trains terminated at Howrah and 46 pairs left the station; 54 pairs of local trains were terminated at Liluah, Belur, Bally, Sheoraphuli, Bandel and Dankuni, while four pairs were diverted to Sealdah. On Saturday, 67 pairs will be stopped short of Howrah.
Chowdhury later said the change in relay system on platforms one to eight was completed on Thursday night and the testing was being carried out throughout Friday. “On Saturday, the testing of the RRI system in the whole yard will be carried out and so the entire station will stay shut down,” he added.
Not ruling out snags in the automatic RRI system, Chowdhury said adequate back-up arrangements would be made. “We will divide the yard into six zones and set up booths in each. Railway staff would be stationed at every booth with provisions for manual setting and locking at diverging and converging points,” the DRM explained.
Sealdah station, too, was hit by operation hi-tech at Howrah. Several trains from Howrah were diverted to Sealdah, via Dankuni and Bandel. Special trains were also run from Sealdah to ease the pressure on the Howrah section. Since no time-table for these additional trains was circulated, passengers were forced to play a guessing game.
Officials at Sealdah station admitted that they were finding it difficult to cope with the extra pressure.
Railway officials, meanwhile, claimed to have made “adequate arrangements” for passengers disembarking from long-distance trains at Santragachhi. “A walkway has been created on the northern front of Santragachhi station, linking it to the Kona Expressway at two points,” said S. Handa, DRM, Kharagpur. Transport department officials added that buses and share taxis bound for Howrah and Calcutta would be stationed at Santragachhi.