The good news about Pune getting its own railway division came in January 1996 from Nitish Kumar, the then Union railway minister, who announced the formation of two new railway zones and eight new divisions. While it took seven years before the division finally became operational, in the last 20-odd years, railway passengers have seen a combination of change and inertia. While the number of trains and average daily footfall has seen an exponential rise, the infrastructural development has been relatively slower. Use of technology has revolutionised some aspects, while the rise of terror threat has posed new challenges.
In 1997-98, about 100 trains used to arrive at, depart from and pass through Pune Railway Station everyday. The average footfall was about 65,000-70,000. Two decades later, the number of trains is a whopping 250 per day and the footfall is about 1.7 lakh. “This is what has prompted the railways to look for suburban stations, such as Hadapsar and Shivajinagar… so that they can take some load off Pune station,” said Senior Divisional Commercial Manager Krishnath Patil. Others like activist Harsha Shah feel that due to improvement in the road network across the country, especially between Pune and Mumbai, the growth in the number of passengers has been slow in the last one decade.
“The Pune-Mumbai Expressway opened in 2002 and brought down the travel time between the two cities from 3.5 hours to just two hours. This has certainly contained the growth in the number of train passengers…,” said Shah.
In 2002, a food plaza was set up on Platform No.1, the first facility of its kind in India. Around the same time, the station got an automatic escalator, another first for Indian Railways. But this facility had to be discontinued due to poor upkeep by the railway administration. AC toilet blocks were constructed for the benefit of passengers. From 10 ticket windows in 1997, the station has 31 windows in 2017.
Passengers, however, feel that the railways needs to do more.James John Albert (41), who has been travelling between Pune and Kerala for the last 18 years, said, “… According to me, only 50 per cent of the passengers’ infrastructural need has been met….”
New Trains, New Lines
The Pune-Mumbai Shatabdi Express was started in 1996, and it had a good run till 2004, before it was converted to an ‘intercity express’. Over the years, Pune got several new trains, including those going to Howrah, Varanasi, Darbhanga, Indore, Patna, Gorakhpur, Amravati, Hyderabad, among other cities. The number of Pune-Lonavala locals has also increased considerably. By 1997, there were about 30 local services, and today there are 44.
Recently, after the electrification of the Pune-Daund line, a DEMU (Diesel Electrical Multiple Unit) service between the two cities has started. While the two lines between Pune and Mumbai have remained unchanged in the last 20 yours, a project to add two more lines has been approved by the Railway Ministry.
With the increasing threat of terror attacks, the perennially crowded Pune station emerged as one of the potential targets in the city. It is also one of the most vulnerable, with half a dozen entry-exit points and lack of adequate security infrastructure. Both the security agencies — Railway Protection Force (RPF) and Government Railway Police (GRP) — are understaffed.
After its introduction in 2002, the e-Ticketing system has come a long way, with a 60 per cent share in total ticket reservation today. The grievance redressal system has also seen a sea change. While earlier one had to call a helpline or register a complaint with the station manager, today passengers can raise the issue on Twitter, and get it ‘resolved’ in real time.