Making train travel more accessible for the disabled and the elderly

While the prospect of a newly introduced train that promised to reduce travel time excited her, Sabita Radhakrishna says that her enthusiasm was short-lived.

“I was cautioned by friends that the travel experience was definitely not easy for senior citizens. There are several factors that come into play when we set foot in a railway station that makes traveling by train a herculean task,” said a senior citizen who lives in Chennai.

For several senior citizens like her as well as for persons with disabilities, railway stations and trains leave much undone when it comes to accessibility. ms. Sabita said to board and get off a train as well as to get onto the platform, one needs to be agile and be ready for acrobatics. “The stairs for getting into the train are almost the same size, and the lowermost is not broad enough. One has to insert their feet between them to get on, and this means that descending them is worse,” she said.

“You are lucky if the train stops close enough to the platform for a relatively easy descent. More often than not I have on arrival experienced the frightening prospect of the platform being much lower than the steps,” Ms. Sabita recalled.

Apprehensive of these stairs and the gap between the train and the platform, Rajam Subramaniam, a resident of the city recalled how she took a small plastic stool with her on a recent train journey. “When I used the stool to disembark, a group of senior citizens who were also on the train requested to use it too and were very thankful for it. This needs to be addressed — for several senior citizens like me, it is extremely hard to hold the side bars given and heave ourselves up into the train. We cannot do this independently,” she pointed out.

For persons with disabilities too, this poses a challenge. S. Aadheeshwar Ram, who has cerebral palsy and low vision, recalled how he lost his footing and stumbled while trying to board a train a month ago at the Puratchi Thalaivar Dr. M. G. Ramachandran Central Railway Station.

Concerns surrounding accessibility begin from the time persons with disabilities and senior citizens either reach railway stations to board trains or disembark.

At the Mambalam railway station, Gnana Bharathi, president, Spinal Injured Persons Association (SIPA), said if a train stopped at platform three, it would be impossible for any wheelchair user to make it out without assistance. “We are lucky if the train stops on platform one. If it is platform one, I usually wait and look for at least three strong persons who can carry my wheelchair up and down the stairs there,” he said.

S. Namburajan, State general secretary, Tamilnadu Association for the Rights of All Types of Differently Abled & Caregivers, said despite the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act mandating that all public infrastructure, including railways, be modified for the convenience for persons with disabilities, not much had been uniformly put into practice. “Over the years, we have repeatedly raised concerns about the heights of platforms, toilets for the disabled remaining under lock and key, providing tactile flooring and prominent displays for passenger assistance information across stations,” he said.

B. Guganesan, Chief Public Relations Officer, Southern Railway, said the Research Designs and Standards Organization (RDSO), an arm of the Indian Railway, was a dedicated organization that kept working on design aspects of the various operational and safety aspects of train operations .

The Railway board as part of the passenger safety policy had advised all platforms across the Indian Railway network to be of a higher level. Previously the height of the platforms was decided based on the category of the stations. Now as per the new policy, Southern Railway was heightening all medium/low platforms to maintain uniformity. He said a higher level would be more convenient for passengers to enter and exit trains.

A senior official of the Chennai division said regarding the accessibility issue at Mambalam railway station, the Southern Railway has constructed a double discharge facility for easy accessibility to suburban commuters coming from west Mambalam side at Platform 1A and an escalator. A lift is proposed to be installed. For Platform 3 and 4 where mail and express trains halt, as the platform width is less than 5.50 feet its not feasible to operate battery vehicles or install escalators, he added.

The Southern Railway has also recently installed Braille Navigation Maps at the entrance of the Central and Egmore railway stations to help visually-impaired commuters navigate the sprawling structure with ease and also to make them aware of the various facilities available.

A senior official of the Chennai Division said the Braille navigation maps had been fixed at the two important railway stations through the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives sponsored by Renault Nissan and Standard Chartered Bank. Navigation maps would soon be installed at Tambaram, Chengalpattu, Arakkonam and Katpadi railway stations, the railway official added.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.