BY 4 pm Wednesday, 22 anxious relatives called and four families stayed put for hours near a small wooden table where the two Central Railways’ train ticket examiners (TTEs) — A K Sinha and R R Sharma — sat. A black-board next to them displayed a helpline number: 022-25280005.
This makeshift help desk was hurriedly set up at the Lokmanya Tilak Terminus (LTT) after news of the rail accidents in Madhya Pradesh’s Harda reached the station.
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While one train, the Kamayani Express, had departed from the LTT Tuesday at 12.40 pm, the second — the Janata Express — was supposed to reach the LTT by 11.30 am Wednesday.
After the train accident, however, six trains were cancelled from the LTT station and several delayed.
The help desk was inundated with calls from anxious relatives, and even curious passengers wanting to know if their scheduled trains were running on time.
While their daily routine only involved checking tickets from 8 am to 4 pm, the two ticket checkers on Wednesday worked over-time trying to answer calls at the station’s lobby. “Hello. LTT station,” Sharma said after picking up the phone’s receiver. He then listened to a female voice asking about a family member who was on board the Kamayani Express. “Unreachable,” she said. As she finished her sentence, Sharma politely requested her to provide the passenger’s mobile number, his name on the train ticket, the seat number and then her own phone number.
The drill was repeated with many others who called. “We are trying passengers’ numbers continuously in case we happen to establish contact,” he said.
On the second fixed-line connection, his colleague Sinha stayed busy dialing “unreachable” passengers, hoping for a breakthrough. “We have no information about injured or dead passengers. Relatives are asking us about the condition of passengers to which we have no answer,” Sinha said.
By 1.30 pm, as one of them quickly went into the office to eat lunch, the other answered the phone that kept ringing incessantly. Despite their best efforts, relatives complained about the lack of information from the railway authorities.
“I heard the railway officials were trying to contact family members, but I did not receive any phone call. The railways should have arranged some trains for relatives and friends. I cannot sit in Mumbai, I have to go to Madhya Pradesh,” Gyani Saket, relative of passenger Sri Ram Saket, said.
By evening, much after their official duty hours, Sharma and Sinha were still surrounded by media persons and anxious relatives.
By then, they had already tried all available numbers of passengers on the ill-fated trains and checked their names against the charts provided to them. But they still had an additional task pending – of calling back relatives of passengers in whose case some information had come in.
“We have been told that those not injured will be transferred to Itarsi station to board another train,” Sharma said taking a moment’s break from the task at hand.
A long register open in front of them, both swiftly returned to answering calls and making entries about the missing passengers.