In the wake of the death of 21-year-old Bhavesh Nakate at Dombivli railway station, Union railway minister Suresh Prabhu has directed the railway officials to explore the possibility of modifying the arrangement of seats on suburban trains to accommodate more passengers in each coach, similar to the longitudinal seats in Metro.
In a meeting with MPs from Mumbai and Thane, including Kirit Somaiya, Gopal Shetty, Rahul Shevale, Shrikant Shinde, Arvind Sawant, Kapil Patil Vinayak Raut and Shrirang Varne, in Delhi, Prabhu told MPs he had asked the railway authorities to change the seating arrangement in a coach on an experimental basis and study the technical feasibility and response of passengers to it.
Rahul Shewale, Shiv Sena MP from Mumbai south central, said the railway minister promised to come up with a long-term action plan.
“Prabhu said currently 16 passengers travel on each sqm on suburban trains. More passengers could be carried if Metro like longitudinal seating arrangement is adopted,” said Shewale, adding the main concern is whether the spring underneath the coach would be able to take the increase in load.
Prabhu said short-term measures such as introducing auto-close door system on suburban coaches, completion of work on raising the height of platforms, fencing the platforms, and running more 15-car trains will be taken up on priority.
Every year, more than 3,300 people lose their lives on the suburban railway network. A video showing how Nakate fell off the crowded train has gone viral, bringing the debate on safety of passengers into focus.
Responding to Shinde’s demand of installing rubber pads on grab poles for better grip, Prabhu said the feasibility of the project would be studied.
“We need to find the root cause of such accidents. The poles are slippery and one cannot hold on to them for long. A rubber pad would be of help to commuters. The railway minister has also agreed to introduce auto-close doors in coaches on an experimental basis,” said Shinde.
Prabhu has already announced the setting up of a committee comprising railway officials, representatives of the state government, passengers’ associations and NGOs, to study the reason behind the deaths on tracks and suggest ways to prevent those.
Installation of longitudinal seats has been discussed in the past to increase the carrying capacity. A debate surrounded the issue five years ago.
But resistance from passengers forced the railway authorities to maintain status quo.