Delhi’s biggest, busiest railway station works with clockwork precision

Inside the power cabin of New Delhi Railway Station hangs a dire warning: being careless may save you a little time but it can result in an accident. A large board dotted with tiny bulbs represents the station’s tracks and platforms. Red lights denote standing trains and yellows the expected arrivals. It is 1pm and all the bulbs are lit.

On any day, the city’s biggest railway station handles more than 300 trains and serves around 5 lakh people. It’s an exceedingly complex job that keeps nine departments and close to 9,000 staff on their toes. “Everything has a schedule and it has to be followed. It requires planning, anticipating what can go wrong, and making arrangements accordingly,” says BK Shukla, the chief station manager.

The power cabin handles three of the station’s most important functions—signalling, traffic and public address—and on this afternoon two men are coordinating the movement of trains over walkie-talkies. They have to update the wall map and ensure that the platforms are cleared for the coming trains on time. Although the station has 16 platforms, there are only four tracks leading in and out of it, and with a train every five minutes, on average, there’s a lot of coordination to be done. Especially in the rush hours, like on this hot afternoon.

Within the power cabin, a man sits in a small enclosure, making announcements on a microphone. Now he’s calling the attention of a woman whose husband is waiting at the entrance of platform 1. Another official sits at a computer that plays recorded announcements.

Besides the three important functions handled by the power cabin, the station has other departments—mechanical, electrical, engineering, commercial, telecommunication, security and medical—for smooth operation. However, the nerve centre is the cabin of the chief station manager. He coordinates with all the departments and takes care of any glitch that occurs.

Shukla has been in charge of New Delhi station for three years and he lays a lot of emphasis on planning and schedules. Only recently, he’s overseen the change in train schedules. A phone rings and Shukla picks it up. A train is running late. In the blink of an eye he tells the caller to announce that it will now arrive at 6.30pm. “I know the schedule of the train and can assess how much time it will take to arrive,” he says with a reassuring smile.

The information will soon be available on the 139 helpline and announced on the public address system. The PA system and train information boards are maintained by the telecommunication department. Shukla says each department has a task and as long as they do their bit, there are no problems.

The traffic department sees to it that trains run on time, while the signals department handles 309 signals on the station to guide trains and also maintains tracks. The mechanical, electrical and engineering departments are responsible for technical maintenance of trains and ensure they are safe and the passenger amenities are in order. The train drivers are supervised by the mechanical department, which also takes care of the loco shed where the engines are kept.

The crucial passenger interaction is handled by the commercial department. It manages booking of tickets, train charts, ticket checking, waiting rooms, retiring rooms, catering and enquiry. The department also handles parcels (or luggage). A luggage vanevery train has two—has a capacity of eight tonnes, but special trains like Rajdhanis have four-tonne vans.

Shukla has facts on his fingertips, and if he doesn’t he can get all the information he wants within 15-20 minutes. He trots out figures for electricity consumed, water used and even the cups of tea sold in a day (5,000).

Asked about the security arrangements at the station, he says there are 152 CCTV cameras and the footage from all of them can be viewed by him. The security is managed by Railway Protection Force (RPF) and Government Railway Police (GRP). The medical department, apart from keeping first aid boxes at platforms 1 and 16, also employs staff to clean the station area.

There is no opening or closing time for the station. The enquiry sections are among the most crowded parts. The officials claim that the line “never breaks”. It thins in the night and thickens by afternoon but there is no time when there aren’t people at the counter. “In rush hour, we answer queries of 500-odd people in an hour,” says an official before turning his attention back on the crowd.

Published in: on July 14, 2013 at 5:44 am  Leave a Comment  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: