The railways on Thursday cancelled 13 pairs of late-night suburban special trains from Howrah and Sealdah on Navami to prevent overcrowding at Kolkata’s Puja pandals.
Services of six pairs of late night special suburban trains in Howrah and seven pairs in Sealdah divisions of the Eastern Railway were cancelled after officials observed that the trains were getting crowded by pandal hoppers.
“These services were introduced for the transportation of those who were connected with emergency services, including healthcare and railways,” said a senior official of the Eastern Railway.
“Unfortunately we noticed that pandal hoppers were crowding these trains beyond capacity. We had no other alternative but to stop the services.”
Almost all these trains would leave Howrah and Sealdah around midnight.
A Ranagahat local, for instance, would leave Sealdah at around 12.40am and reach the destination past 2am. A Naihati local would leave Sealdah at 1.45 am and reach its destination within an hour.
In the chord line section a Dankuni local, for example, would leave Sealdah at 11.30pm and reach at 12.15 am.
Senior railway officials said the timings were drawn up to facilitate a large number of emergency staff including those working in the healthcare sector and police personnel to reach home after their late-night duty during the Puja days.
But these special trains appeared to be meant for carrying pandal hoppers who would spend longer hours visiting pujas across Kolkata and take these suburban local trains to return home.
Bidhannagar emerged as the most crowded of all railway stations in the Sealdah main section from where pandal hoppers would board these trains in huge numbers making it almost impossible for the railway staff and the RPF to stop them.
Railway staff and even police struggled to board these trains even though they were meant for emergency staff like them.
“We realised that in the Sealdah main section the main draw for a majority of these passengers was the Sreebhumi pandal,” the railway official said.
“Similarly there were several other hit pujas on the Howrah and Sealdah south section which attracted huge crowds from the suburbs and a majority of them had been using the night special trains for their commute.”