Shortage of coaches keeps passenger trains off tracks

Shortage of coaches keeps passenger trains off tracks
Old train coaches were brought to the Kochi yard to be demolished. Photo: Robin T Varghese

Kochi: The resumption of passenger train schedules is likely to be further delayed due to an acute shortage of railway coaches in Kerala. The schedules were cancelled after the outbreak of Covid-19.

Most of the rakes in use were taken off following a Railway Board directive to scrap all coaches that are over 20 years old. General compartments and third-tier air-conditioned coaches were among those that were retired from service.

Both the railway divisions in the state, Thiruvananthapuram and Palakkad, are facing an acute shortage of coaches.

A plan to ply MEMU trains is yet to be rolled out. The Thiruvananthapuram division alone requires eight rakes, and indications are that it may get four this year.

MEMU, or Mainline Electric Multiple Unit, is the Indian Railways’ commuter system, serving short and medium-distance routes.

Express trains such as Kanyakumari-Pune (Jayanti); Kochuveli-Mangaluru (Antyodaya); Kochuveli-Lokmanya Tilak (Bi-weekly); Ernakulam-H Nizamuddin (Millennium); Thiruvananthapuram-H Nizamuddin (Swarna Jayanti); Kochuveli-Chandigarh (Sampark Kranti); Kochuveli-Amritsar; and Kochuveli-Bhavnagar are also yet to resume service.

Kerala has not yet received new coaches proportionate to those withdrawn from service. Even as the Railways has announced that it is completely shifting to LHB coaches, only Kochuveli could take the maintenance of the rakes.

Linke Hofmann Busch (LBH) passenger coaches, using German technology, are designed for an operating speed of up to 160kmph, the broad-gauge coaches could touch 200kmph. They are now being produced in India.

The maintenance division’s failure has been preventing the profitable operation of the Kerala Express using five rakes. Kerala Express’s maintenance is still on at Kochuveli, necessitating six rakes. One rake could have been put to use if Thiruvananthapuram had modern pit lines. However, the mechanical division has not initiated steps to modernize the pit lines at Thiruvananthapuram.

Photo: Robin T Varghese

There are no modern pit lines in Ernakulam. Mechanical division’s adamant stand that the maintenance of LHB coaches will be undertaken only at one place will have an adverse impact when all trains shift to LHB rakes.

Though a third pit lane was laid in Ernakulam, it is yet to become operational. It is alleged that the mechanical division is delaying its inauguration citing frivolous reasons. Authorities, however, said rakes are being inspected in the yet-to-be-inaugurated pit line.

As many as eight trains could be operated using the new pit line. However, constraints at Ernakulam Junction Railway Station is another challenge. There is no facility to fill water in trains arriving at platform number one. The work to set up a water-filling facility started a year ago, has been delayed due to a dispute over the quality of electric cables. 

The electrical division, allegedly, caused the delay. Such minor hurdles have been preventing the Thiruvananthapuram division from increasing the schedules.

An inspection report by John Thomas, General Manager of the Southern Railway, had recommended the lengthening of two platforms at Ernakulam to service 24-coach trains. The division has not taken up the work. The senior officials in the division have a view different from that of the general manager.

Meanwhile, trains under the Palakkad division are yet to get the LHB coaches. Though Kozhikode-Thiruvananthapuram Jan Shatabdi, Thiruvananthapuram-Kannur Jan Shatabdi and Ernakulam-Patna are in urgent need of LHB rakes, only the Patna is on the list of probable immediate beneficiary.

Photo: Robin T Varghese

The development of the Kochuveli railway yard should be completed if Kerala is to have more schedules. However, it is alleged that the division is not interested in simultaneously taking up the works of two platforms, stabling line, and modernization of the signalling system.

Completing the work simultaneously would add more trains, thereby increasing the workload, and hence they are taking up tasks one after the other.

Kerala doesn’t have the necessary permission to ply three-phase MEMUs with 12 coaches. Currently, the rakes have an eight-car composition. Association of railway commuters blamed that the apathy of divisional and zonal officials have been delaying 12-coach MEMUs in Kerala. 

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