Like many other Mumbaikars, you might spot them waiting on platforms for a local train. One fact distinguishes them from others — they do not board the trains, but stay on the platform observing the trains and the crowds.
Meet the Mumbai Chapter of the Indian Railways Fan Club (IRFCA), an association of rail enthusiasts connected by an electronic discussion forum. IRFCA was started in 1989 in the US as a mailing list of nine members and has grown over the years with over 8,000 members worldwide now. It describes itself as a hobby group that dwells on all aspects of the Indian Railways. Vijay Aravamudhan, 32, is a resident of Dombivli and works as an internal auditor at Axis Bank. The member of the IRFCA has pioneered several initiatives for change in the Mumbai locals. “The Mumbai Chapter consists of around 150 members of the total active membership of more than 5000 people of the IRFCA. We are the people who have grown up with the Mumbai locals and feel attached to it. We meet often to discuss various aspects of locals and go on ‘railfanning’ trips to further our knowledge about the same,” he said. His passion for Mumbai locals got him and two other rail enthusiasts together to work on making a database of all local trains in the city since 2011. They sit for hours on the station observing the trains and noting down numbers of the trains, their types and even numbers of the coaches. The database is so exhaustive, and accurate that even the railway authorities seek their help in difficulties.
Vijay was also involved in convincing the head of the engineering department of the railways to change the colour of the locals of the Central Railway from dull red to the new color scheme of cream and navy blue. Although it required months of follow up, he said commuters preferred bright and fresh colors and were very happy with the changes. “We take photos of any problems with the locals such as lights, fans, ventilation issues, and send these pictures to the carshed heads along with the coach numbers. Then the railway authorities work on flaws we point out. We do this to make the exhausting travel of thousands of commuters a little more pleasant,” he said.
In one of their “railfanning” trips in January 2015, a group of 12 rail enthusiasts from the city set out to explore and cover the entire suburban Mumbai corridor. Nikhil Karunakaran was one of the 12 on the trip that they named the Mumbai Suburban Parikrama. “We left from Thaneat 5 am. We travelled to Kasara, Kalyan, Karjat, Khopoli, Panvel, CST, Mahim, Churchgate, Dadar, Dahanu Road and then back to Thane. By the time we got back, it was 2 am the next day. In a 22-hour trip, we talked everything about trains. It was among the best experiences I have had with locals,” he said.