Eastern Railway has put in “a word of gratitude” for its passengers. They have all been remarkably patient while the old signalling system at Howrah station was being replaced with “a new and modern one”. It claims to have completed the replacement in record time, with train services having resumed since Sunday morning. This was certainly a mammoth task, and the tone of self-congratulation is understandable. But the reality, at the passengers’ end, was not quite what the chief operations manager’s public words seemed to claim, although the small print left room for “some detentions” and resulting “inconvenience”. The self-congratulation has to be qualified on two counts. First, the railways took much longer than declared to make the transition. Even as late as Monday morning the situation at Howrah station was fairly chaotic. A fifth of the suburban trains had been cancelled, and five long-distance ones resche- duled. Operational hitches in the new signalling systems kept seriously deferring the resumption of normal services. Even if this could be explained as part of the inevitabilities of such a transition from old to new, Eastern Railway’s second failure is far more inexcusable.
The alternative arrangements made in Sealdah and other suburban stations were far from satisfactory, showing at various levels the railways’ inability to come to a realistic appraisal of the magnitude of the required arrangements. The authorities seemed to have been quite unaware of the immense number of people who use the trains every day to come into Calcutta. The other suburban stations to which commuters were directed, as an alternative arrangement, were simply not up to bearing the load of such numbers, and this had made it impossible for many to board trains, seriously upsetting everybody’s schedules. The infrastructure of buses and taxis, although notionally kept running to stand in for the stalled services, also failed to spare the commuters’ nerves. A safer, more efficient and altogether more modern signalling system is certainly welcome, but the transition to it could have been better managed.