ALMOST 98 per cent of railway stations in the Mumbai suburban network pose a high risk or are “dangerous” to persons with disabilities and senior citizens due to the gap between the platform and footboard of the train. This was the finding of an audit by a city-based NGO on accessibility of suburban railway stations for persons with disabilities and senior citizens. This means that differently abled and senior citizens find it difficult to board trains independently.
The Bombay High Court in October had directed the India Centre for Human Rights (ICHR) to conduct an audit assessing accessibility of suburban railway stations for persons with disabilities and senior citizens after they filed a petition in this regard.
The one-month study examined 124 suburban stations on Central Railway (CR) including Harbour and trans-harbour line and the Western Railway (WR) to check if features including entrances, ticketing counters, platforms, level changes including ramps, stairs and lifts, toilets, offices, waiting and parking areas in stations are compliant with the guidelines given by the Ministry of Urban Development, 2016 and Railway Board guidelines for passenger amenities, 2013.
According to the study, only three railway stations Masjid Bunder, Mahim junction and Khopoli stations were found with acceptable height difference between the platform and footboard of the train.
While 46 stations were deemed dangerous, 30 indicated ‘high-risk’ while the remaining were seen as uncomfortable as far as easy boarding of the trains was concerned.
“Efficiency and economy of movement, safety, location, infrastructure adequacy and legibility are the main challenges from the perspective of persons with disabilities. The ability to move quickly and reach the right spot for boarding a train (usually on a dedicated compartment), or alighting and finding a way out without too much effort is crucial for persons with disabilities”, the report stated.
“A suitable platform height is must for people with disabilities to be able to board or alight from the train with ease. For those using crutches, a 30-second gap at each platform can be difficult for quick movement. Thus, all platform height details which can help disabled or older people to conduct their movement with ease is a must,” said Meenaz Kakalia, a member of ICHR.
The report also judged only 41 out of 124 stations to have an acceptable gap between the platform and compartment floor of the train (width wise) suggesting that the remaining stations are not wide enough to make their entry into the train easy. The report also judged almost 33 per cent stations on the Harbour line to be least compliant with the guidelines, followed by CR at 38 per cent and WR at 40 per cent.
“We have had cases where people with disabilities were injured due to the wider gap as they found it tough to board, especially during peak hours. The problem worsens when the compartment made for disabled-friendly remains crowded by other commuters including railway police officials also. Corrective action needs to be taken at the earliest,” said Nitin Gaikwad, railway activist.
For the past couple of years, the railways has resurfaced and revamped platform heights at various stations to bring the height gap between 850- 900 millimetres (mm) to ensure safer access of trains to commuters. While the works are on, officials complain it will take more time to be able to comply with the court guidelines.
“While we have tried our best to re-surface the platforms beyond 850 mm at various stations, efforts are on to further raise them. However, catering to specific needs of people with disabilities in a network that sees 80 lakh daily commuters on an average is pretty difficult. They actually are a minuscule part of our daily commute,” said a senior railway official.
The report also found only 37.7 per cent of the stations to be compliant with each of the measures stated “to a satisfactory amount”.
Among the least compliant stations were Shahad, Khopoli, Ambernath, Thakurli on CR, Manasarovar, Khandeshwar on Harbour line and Naigaon and Virar on WR.
The WR, through an affidavit submitted to the court, admitted to rectify the deficiencies pointed out in the report.