Hello, is there any”body” to welcome us?

My entry into Madras for the first time in my life was when I was 7. Little did this Srirangam-born, Trichy-bred boy know that years later he would transform into a “die-hard, Chennai-loving Indian blogger” :-). So, my parents got transferred to Madras and my brother and I accompanied them with wide-eyed wonder and excitement on moving from a small-town into the big-city. My uncle (father’s younger brother), who was already settled in Madras was going to pick us up from Madras Egmore. Just as we were nearing the terminus, maybe a couple of stations away, what welcomed me to Madras for the first time was a ghastly sight, that of a human body cut into two pieces and lying on the tracks, next to a stopped local train. For a boy of 7, this never-before-seen scene was too gory to both watch and to forget, which is why I am able to recall it even now. Anyhow, my first “Zen-like desensitization” program to leading the life of a “citi-zen” had begun in right earnest and I was on the first step (with many to go), of becoming a veteran city-dweller.

While we have all written many posts on the state of roads in Chennai and have even covered road safety in some of those posts, we have not covered one of the major causes of loss of precious lives in the city, that of the crossings of railway-tracks by pedestrians and two-wheeler owners in a hurry. While accidents at unmanned level-crossings have been regular occurrences throughout India and more so in Thamizhnaadu, what is peculiar about Chennai city vs. rest of the cities in Thamizhnaadu are the large suburban areas through which the major railway arterial lines run, which contribute to almost the entire share of the accidents that claim lives even when the gates are closed.

Suicides account for only a miniscule part of the human toll on the tracks and the majority are accidents that happen as a result of statistical probability – of the chances of getting knocked down by a speeding train when large numbers of people cross the tracks daily. As this recent news item indicates, the alternatives to crossing the tracks don’t look too good either and people end up actually choosing the more dangerous option either thru lethargy or thru sheer force of habit or due to the eternal human trait of “monkey-see, monkey-do”.

Unless some large-scale changes happen, I don’t see a way for a lessening of this wasteful loss of lives that happens on such a routine basis that people have become inured to it or worse still, have come to shrug it off as a “cost of doing business” (the business of attending to the demands of everyday living). So, how do I want to end this post that started off with how I was welcomed to this city by a cut human body? Well, one of my father’s best friends, who lived at Tiruchanoor (near Tirumala Tirupati) and fought a long-drawn-out court battle, won it several years back at the Madras High Court and had lunch with us after returning from the court, on the day the favorable judgement in the case was announced. He was ecstatic and invited all of us over again to his place (we had visited him a couple of years prior to that). He took leave of us and with all his documents tucked in a cloth-bag under his arms, went to see a friend of his, who had helped him during the early part of the case. The friend, who resided at one of the suburban locations, had his home on the other side of the railway tracks. I think I will stop here.

2 Comments so far

  1. sachin (unregistered) on May 13th, 2007 @ 5:55 pm

    its a problem faced on every railway and every metro.

    Only the paris metro has a solution to it, which is to provide direct acress from the platform to only the doors of the carraigeway. Think of it as doors that open on a platform directly into the carraige. access to tracks are restricted cause they are underground

    There are several leg amputations that happen in the london underground because of the gap between the metro carraige and the platform.. Hence the connotation “Mind the Gap” in the london underground..

    Chennai MRTS and chennai metro should see fewer accidents as compared to the chennai suburban line and of course, apna mumbais suburban lines.. In Mumbai there is some statistic that 4 people lose their lives each day thanks to being thrown off a moving train, or falling of a railway platform.. etc etc

  2. Thad E. Ginathom (unregistered) on May 13th, 2007 @ 11:10 pm

    Such accidents are rare in London — it is quite wrong to give the impression otherwise.

    There is absolutely no comparison between the scene at a British railway station and an Indian one. nobody dashes accross the tracks rather than taking a long walk to bridge or subway. It just does not happen.

    Accidents at unmanned crossings are known but rare. Again, the tendency is to obey the signals and warnings, and not to duck around or under gates.

    All these accidents happen because people are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Which is very much down to the people. They do not need to happen.

    ‘Mind the Gap’ — is about the stations that are built where the line is on a curve. Curved platform, straight carriage, gap.

    Some of the new Jubilee line stations have platform doors which line up with the train doors, which very much enhances the safety.

    But London is not full of one-legged tube victims.

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