Passengers bore the brunt as the 150-year-old Howrah station went in for its “biggest-ever technical overhaul” on Saturday. Train services from Howrah were suspended following the two-day work on the installation of the Route Relay Interlocking (RRI) system.
Swapan Chowdhury, divisional railway manager of Howrah, said the RRI switch — introduced to minimise the waiting time for trains reaching Howrah — went as per schedule. “We are conducting the tests and expect to resume services from 6 am on Sunday,” Chowdhury said.
With no trains on the Howrah tracks, the station wore a deserted look as passengers thronged Sealdah and other suburban stations.
But despite the authorities’ claims of an “elaborate arrangement” to facilitate passengers, several complaints poured in from commuters.
While long-distance trains from Santragachhi, on the South Eastern Railway section, ran behind schedule on Saturday, the number of local trains proved inadequate to cope with the load.
“Long-distance trains got delayed by over an hour due to inadequate number of platforms at the Santragachhi station” explained V. Srivastava, senior divisional commercial manager of Kharagpur division. According to him, 27 pairs of local trains — instead of 75 from Howrah on a normal day — ran from Santragachhi, Shalimar and Andul.
The scene at Santragachhi station was chaotic with passengers for long-distance trains reaching hours before the departure time and waiting at the station. S.K. Biswas, a resident of Durgapur, reached the station at 3.45 pm for the 8.45 pm Chennai Mail. “I didn’t want to take any chance,” said an exhausted Biswas.
“We had to travel all the way to Santragachhi and wait for several hours. The trains were overcrowded,” said Tapan Das, a daily passenger between Howrah and Panskura.
There was confusion at Howrah as well when some passengers, unaware of the change in schedule, reached the station.
“I did not know that the Howrah-Ahmedabad Express would leave from Santragachhi,” said Joy Paul. Passenger complaints were heard at the Sealdah station as well with trains running late.
The problems of passengers were compounded with taxi drivers charging exorbitant rates and not enough buses to cope with the extra pressure.