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Indian Railways: Chaos and my 17 km survival journey

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If I would have to describe Indian Railways in adjectives I would describe it as- chaos, unorganised. So here is my story about how the most third class unresponse from Indian Railways meant that I had to cover the last 18 km of my journey through my kind of hell. What I would write here would not be something really fancy, but you’ll have to consider one thing that I was really really sick with my blood pressure fluctuating between low and normal for the last five hours and I was drifting out of sleep, unconsciousness to know situation awareness and the likes.

So, due to my health issue I left the office early at 3 PM to catch the train at 4. Just giving you a spoiler that the distance was from Kanpur to Lucknow with an approximate distance of 72 km as per the railway ticket, but you can take up 80 because that’s what that is, more or less. So my train from Kanpur departs 20 minutes late at 4:20 PM, goes on a evening walk with the pace, not better than a local train. There is only one stoppage in between Kanpur Lucknow and that is Unnao, 20 km from Kanpur after that, it’s flat-out non-stop Lucknow. The scheduled stop which was 5 minutes eventually went to 20 minutes, but even then, I did not sense that something was wrong (not wrong apart from my health). By the time the train reached Amausi, a distance of just 17 km from station to station which would take not more than 35 minutes maximum to Lucknow.

My nightmare started, that station is 4 track station where trains are taken on the loop line and the ones from behind a given go through pass. Although my train was not scheduled to stop there, but it did and later did I realise that it was the loop line, which meant that some other train from behind was being given the pass. There was some trouble when the train did not move an inch for the next 20 minutes, and that was 5:35 then. Rumours started flying in the compartment that the train would not go any further, the engine had broken down, there was some derailment and all sort of things. My body was not cooperating with me and I was having bouts of unconsciousness, so I missed 2 trains which came on the next track, people literally stormed the two trains and went away. By the time my body was stable enough to take decisions and move forward, there were no signs of any more incoming trains. With increasing growing darkness, the trains started to become empty as the people left behind slowly de-boarded and made the way to the station and look for alternate means to go to their destinations. There were no proper announcements regarding the next train to come, what’s the current status of the train and all, so there was a lot of confusion out there. I had to go only 18 km to Lucknow, but the others had much greater distances to travel beyond that. 

Crossing 3 tracks is a dangerous proposition in fading light, when you have to keep your senses really alert to hear any incoming trains and in the meanwhile to make sure that you don’t hurt yourself in the hurry. What I did was to not cross the tracks directly to the station, but I went ahead towards the engine in the hope that if I could get a hold of the engine driver himself, I could ask him whats the status of the train and if there is any chance of it heading to Lucknow sometime later? The engine was powered off. In the meantime, I had already tried the railway enquiry number, but all I got was a message saying that you would be charged 2 rupees for this call and after that the call got disconnected automatically. Looks like Indian Railways works only on Twitter and nowhere else, damn the digital India. I was cursing, “Take 20 instead of two. But get the damn call connected to somebody.” In the meantime I had called up my father at Lucknow, who had come to pick me up and asked him to get the status of the train as of Lucknow. He had said that it was showing the train would be late by 1 hr from the scheduled time, the time which had already passed so here I was in total utter confusion as the status of the train at the next big station was that it would be late, but there was no clarity as there was no manual response and only the display boards were showing the status of the train. He was calling me again and again, saying that the Railways was increasing that late arrival of that train time after time and there was no fixed time to that.

In the meantime, the guard of the train was going from coach to coach telling people to get off the train as the train had been cancelled, he was literally telling people to get off. Damn those 17 km. I knew that the closest landmark or maybe the easiest one for me was to make to the airport (Amausi has an airport ) or maybe get on the road to the airport from where I could get transportation to Lucknow really easily, but this station was totally new to me. I had no clue which way to go. 

So I decided to whip out the Google map on my phone, punch in the landmark and head to that direction. At the ticket counter of the station I asked any mode of transportation available to make it either to the airport or the Lucknow Kanpur highway. The clerk said to me that the airport was some 8 to 9 km away from the station, but I had to move fast as the auto, E Rickshaw drivers here were fond of eating and drinking, so they won’t be available too late to catch one of them. Mind you, it was 7:10 PM then. Neither me nor my father had ever come to this station, so we had no clue that it was from which direction from the Lucknow railway station. So there was no question of him coming to pick me up more so the fact that he was not well with using Google maps and navigation . Making my way through the rubble of an under construction flyover and darkness, using the flashlight on the phone as a guide , I reached the road outside the station, but there were no transportation available. Whatever transportation was available was not ready to go anyway, it was point-blank refusal. Only the refuelling tankers were my companion as the Indian oil refilling station was nearby, it meant that there would be some habitation or activity. I decided to follow my delhi habits and walk, while navigating from the phone, a guy with a wheeler and a backpack later joined me (name Ishan), behind us, a family of some 4 more people came together with the loads of luggage and we had gone barely some 200 m when we decided to ask the drivers at the refilling point the way to Lucknow, they told us that we were heading in the wrong direction and we should have taken a left from the station instead of heading straight on, they said that distance to the main road was 5 to 7 km. We head back to starting point and just then noticed an e rickshaw coming, he agreed to take us to Lucknow. We let that family get in and saw them off . In the meantime, we saw a Maruti car pulling up and we asked the driver if he could give us a lift to the highway and he said that he would be back in some 10 minutes and then he would take us where we wanted to go. We got hold of another rickshaw and had barely gone some 20 m before he said, “Sir, battery low, it can’t go any further,”. We got down and had to wait for the car driver. After some five minutes he came and made our way to our destination. It was not 5-7 . Easily some 9 km before the main road. At the very start we could have travelled that distance but there were lonely stretches of road in between, and uneven surface, and not really good atmosphere. We thanked the driver , got down and tried getting hold of some transport, the tempos would be taking much longer to Lucknow. So those were out of the question. My mind had jammed about the next step , just then Ishan said, “Now we can book an Ola or Uber”..

After constantly trying to book a cab, got successful in the next one, arrived within five minutes. We plonked down our luggage and sat down to a destination of Lucknow railway station. Ishan checked the status of the train on the phone in realise that that same train from which we both deboarded and was deemed to be “cancelled” reached, Lucknow at 8:20 PM, right now, it was it 8:35. The train had been diverted from his usual route as a goods train had derailed after Lucknow, so a lot of diversions were going on. He abandoned his plans going to the railway station and decided to stay for the night in Lucknow atan acquaintance place, and I decided to continue the same journey to my home instead, calling my father and telling him to go home while I was reaching there directly now.

It was 9:25 by the time I reached home, a full 5 ½ hours after I had first boarded the train, 1 hour after the cancelled ghost train had reached its destination. Leaving me in the lurch.... It was a nightmare for me, covering those 17 km per railway what damn exhausted as I had to be hundred percent on my guard while not being well to make sure that I don’t get mugged by anyone.

There were a lot of issues-

· There was no clear cut information from the Railways. The information proved to be false and misleading as well. In the end as the train, which was supposed to be cancelled eventually reaches destination.

· I had to make a decision there and then of deboarding the train and searching for alternating meetings of transport because I couldn’t be left alone in a train in such darkness and I had didn’t knew that whether the train would eventually go or not.

· All those years of watching survival programs on discovery came to the rescue where I remembered that I had to use the navigation, knowledge of the nearest landmark I could search for, the place where I wanted to go, the nearest road I should take.

· Ishan and me helped each other out, my use of Google maps gave him the idea of the distance to our destination and whether we could make it there or not, his idea of a very basic thing of calling a cab, I was not sure cabs came so far to pick up passengers or not.

· Although my father later said that I did the mistake of taking a decision too soon to get down from the train, I would have reached Lucknow by 8:20, he didn’t realise that in an 18 coach train where there are less than 18 people left you have to think the next step. 

· I was in the vicinity of Lucknow so I knew so many things to think off, what would have happened in an unknown place?

· The so-called high-tech and digital Twitter handle of Indian Railways were unresponsive that day because the tweet sent by me asking about the status of the train, still remains unanswered.

· That day, although not directly, but we felt like survivors of a train mishap and probably experienced the same feeling as people do at that time- what next and how to reach the destination?

There was total misinformation by the Railways as had they provided us the correct information as to the running of that train which left me behind, none of us would have faced such issues. That’s why Indian Railways can be described in one word - chaos.

First run the current trains properly and then only think about running the genies dream of bullet trains in India, you are not made for it....
Indian Railways: Chaos and my 17 km survival journey Indian Railways: Chaos and my 17 km survival journey Reviewed by Shwetabh on 1:28:00 PM Rating: 5

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