Chugging along in the steam engine era

  • Nirmal C Sinha
  • Updated: Oct 10, 2014 01:48 IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has expressed the need for a high-speed train system for the country. During his visit to Japan, the technical and financial inputs needed for high-speed trains were discussed with the Japanese prime minister. A high-speed corridor may need only a narrow strip of land or the upgrade of existing tracks, but the stations will need more space.

Not many stations have been built in important cities since Independence. However, those built are in accordance with standard railway patterns. I have four stations in mind: Northern Railways' New Delhi station; Western Railways' Bandra Terminus, Mumbai; Central Railways' Lokmanya Tilak Terminus at Kurla, Mumbai; and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus of Central Railway, Mumbai. These locations can be used for stations to handle the passenger traffic of high-speed trains. Due to lack of proper planning and poor facilities, these locations are not popular. All these have ample open space to build a next-generation station with facilities to match or even better the railways stations in Europe and the United States.

The reason these stations are not popular is because the Railways did not pay attention to the circulating area and left the approach to these stations to the state governments. The planning of a station should include, besides station buildings and facilities, a proper entry, exit and parking.

The Indian Railways are designing and building stations based on concepts from the steam engine era. The space above the railway track must be open (for steam locomotive smoke to escape). Since pillars cannot be near the edge of the platform due to passenger safety, the present design of platform covers is the only possibility. Also, since only the first and last platforms can be very wide, all the facilities for passengers are concentrated on the first and last platforms. Ticketing and related facilities are also be handled there, forcing passengers to pass through these end-platforms. This increases congestion.

The present design precludes the use of open-sky areas above the track and above the platform roof. Steam locomotives no longer exist. The use of the space above the track and platform area will permit passenger facilities to be provided on the first, second and third floors. The spaces above can be commercially exploited with elevated roads so that they don't interfere with passenger movement into and out of stations. The Indian Railways has used the space above the railway tracks while designing the Churchgate station in Mumbai, but it did not need the passenger facilities required for a main line station as it is a suburban terminus.

Major facilities like waiting rooms, food courts, ticketing, etc, can be planned at the next level. If arriving passengers are dispersed through basement facilities, departing passenger facilities can be at a level above the platform.

For the movement at passenger-handling levels, for departing and arriving passengers, provisions for walkways and battery-operated carts should be made. These should be able to take passengers to and from bus stands, pick-up and drop-off points, car parks and taxi/auto stands.

The third level above the platforms should have facilities for retiring rooms, dormitories, restaurants, food courts, etc, and some basic medical help. No external access is required at this level.

Levels further above may be commercially used, with entirely separate entries, exits and traffic disposal. Since most stations are located in the middle of large cities, these will have high commercial value and that will pay for the construction of the entire station infrastructure. A PPP route is the best option. This will also ensure faster and hassle free construction.

This is a general concept. Each location will have its own limitations and construction constraints. Ideas need to be modified by experts and architects to suit local conditions.

(Nirmal C Sinha is a former general manager, Indian Railways)

(The views expressed by the author are personal)

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