Alappuzha: It was during the Covid times three years ago that the railways converted all the passenger trains into ‘Express Specials’, collecting thrice the ordinary charges, and is still continuing with the practice. Besides the fare concerns, the same has left scores of passengers arriving at small stations high and dry, as the authorities are yet to restore all the halts that existed before the Covid period. “They have taken away many stops of Express trains promising that they will run MEMU and passenger services to accommodate the passengers from small stations. But what they have done is just the opposite, taking away the stops of passenger trains too by terming them ‘Express Specials’. These trains don’t have stops at small stations where the passenger trains earlier used to halt,” said J Lyons, Secretary, Friends on Rails.
The Express Specials don’t have stops at stations like Akattumuri, Kappil, Perinad, Cheriyanad, and Chingavanam, among others, he pointed out. The commuting woes are, particularly, worse in the Ernakulam-Alappuzha section where the NH flyover works make road journey a difficult and time-consuming proposition. “With the NH works commencing, what they should have done is to increase the passenger train services to facilitate the travel by the local residents. Instead, they have rerouted the Ernakulam-Alappuzha-Kollam passenger that starts from Ernakulam Junction at 12.30 noon via the Kottayam section. Now after the Express Special service at 8 am, the next train from Kumbalam (towards South) is only at 4.10 pm,” said Eswar K K, a retired bank employee now running a textile shop in Cheppad.
When contacted, the railway officials said the measure had been taken since the service was having low passenger patronage, a charge rejected by the commuters. “All the trains were running to full capacity before they started charging thrice the fare in the name of ‘Express Specials’. Now the minimum fare is Rs 30 instead of Rs 10 earlier,” Easwar, a frequent commuter, charged. The ‘Friends of Railways’ have submitted petitions and taken up the issue with the authorities, with no effect. “The daily commuter is bearing the brunt as the railways have also cut down general coaches in Express trains. We demand the restoration of the passenger trains and restoration of all the stops,” Lyons said.