The recent clarification from the Railway Board (RB), reducing the sleeping time by an hour to 10 pm – 6 am (earlier it was 9pm6am) has opened a Pandora’s box for the Railways. While people continue to quarrel over occupying seats, the sleep time revision has raised eyebrows over charging sleeper fare for (sitting) seats. Ironically, the RB had issued the clarification in the middle of September, to minimise the very problem between passengers in reserved train compartments.
While some have welcomed the move, some have opposed the logic of collecting sleeper fare for sitting in day time trains and insisting on waking up by 6 am. For instance, Mangalore bound West Coast Superfast Express from Chennai Central starts at 11.30 am and covers over 595 kilometers, reaching Shoranur junction via Coimbatore before 10 pm, the stipulated time for using berths. It is one of the very few day-time trains with berths to be run between Chennai and Coimbatore, wherein passengers pay sleeper fare. As per the new rule, those choosing the train for its berths could be asked to make way for other occupants.
Anbarari Palanisamy, a 56-year old homemaker, who regularly shuttles between Chennai and Coimbatore asks, “Why should I pay sleeper charges if I am not allowed to use the berth? I choose Westcoast Express to travel to Coimbatore mainly because it helps me sleep during day journey.
Indeed, the government has advised passengers to cooperate with sick people, pregnant women and persons with disability, but how many people adjust? People have started quarreling more, after the recent clarification.”
In particular, passengers booking the middle and lower berth would be affected more by the RB notification. “The person in the upper berth can sleep as long as he likes. Also, he/she can demand for a seat from the lower and middle berth occupants at his convenience, whereas, middle and lower berth occupants must wake up if one of the other two insist. Worse, should the middle berth occupant choose to sit, passengers in the lower berth ought to make way, while the one occupying the upper berth could continuing sleeping, giving him/her an undue advantage.
NV Rama Rao, Director, Traffic and Transportation Forum, Chennai says, “One hour will not be a big difference. Even senior citizens should not be affected. In a way, it is good because people can no longer oversleep. Traffic has been increasing.
A passenger’s right to sleep has been not deprived. There may be stray cases of confrontation. It will die down after some time.” Claiming that the problem persists more in the north, M Kishore Kumar, Divisional Railway Users Consultative Committee (DRUCC) member, Chennai Division, argued, “The new rule will help us.
Travelling Ticket Examiners (TTEs ) can rein in people encroaching other’s berths or oversleeping, especially during festival and holiday seasons, when reserved compartments would be overcrowded.” He further told DT Next that he would raise the issue of collecting sleeper fare for sitting seats in day trains at the next DRUCC meeting.
A TTE in Chennai division, who mediates such quarrels regularly on the Chennai – Salem route, admitted to receiving more complaints after publicising the new rule. He said that passengers have been frequently approaching train staff to wake up passengers who oversleep beyond 6 am or who do not vacate lower berths after 10 pm.
A senior railway officer, requesting anonymity, said the passengers were largely adjusting on their own and the problem was not a severe one in the southern zone. However, the officer said that sleeper ticket price revision in day trains was a policy decision, taken at the board or ministry level.
Railway Board has advised passengers to adjust and allow pregnant women, sick and disabled persons to sleep beyond stipulated sleeping hours.
One compartment of the lowest class of accommodation is earmarked for ladies in every passenger. carrying train.
Boys under 12 years of age may travel in a ladies compartment, with relatives or friends.