The Curious Case of the Crumbling Coaches

It happened again! Southern Railway’s railway coaches allotted to the TVC (Trivandrum) division are falling apart on the slightest provocation, not unlike how an Indian hatchback car crumbles when it makes the slightest contact with an external stationary object. The latest incident which made headlines all over the country was when a sleeper coach of the 16316 Trivandrum Kochuveli – Bangalore Express crumbled into itself and then broke into two pieces with one end pointing up towards the skies while it was being shunted (attached) to the rest of the train. Fortunately there was no one inside the coach and even more fortunately it was not running on a mainline at 110 kph. A huge railway carriage made of iron and steel which was supposed to be “anti-telescopic” and protecting people (72 atleast) traveling in it, on being pushed against another carriage just crumbled like a beer can smashed against a drunk forehead. Tells a lot, doesn’t it?

Kochuveli - Bangalore Express Coach (bogie) that Crashed While Shunting at Trivandrum

If you know some things about how Indian Railways works, you will know that the “serial” number painted on the upper exterior of coaches actually mean something. The first two numbers indicate the year in which the coach was manufactured. The remaining indicate the type of coach and the number manufactured etc. The coach number of the ill-fated coach of 16316 was 89232. Note the first two numbers, which say 89, meaning that the coach was manufactured in 1989. Which makes the coach was a whopping 25 years old! Many of you reading this are not as old as that coach was. And what is more, there are many such “senior citizens” still running the length and breadth of the country carrying thousands unsuspecting passengers on their rusted bottoms. However, it is the Southern Railway, or to be specific its Thiruvananthapuram (TVC) and Palakkad (PGT) divisions, or the state of Kerala, Mangalore City and the Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu which are accorded with the unenviable honor of having become the old-age homes of railway coaches. It is no shock when a minister himself said that 75% of coaches in Kerala are over 25 years old!

This incident is just the latest in a series of similar incidents all of which took place in the state in the past couple of months. Coaches are falling apart while starting, stopping, running, pushed, pulled… It has been long known that Indian Railways dumps its oldest and most useless coaches in Kerala. Almost all trains in the state run with these ancient coaches which carry with them the legacy of decades gone by. And on the way, some of these coaches naturally die of old age. Here are some of those obituaries that happened in Kerala in the past few months:

A Gallery of Senior Citizen and Rotten Coaches on Southern Railway (SR)

Erstwhile picture of the coach that was damaged in a shunting accident

Before and After: Picture of the 89232 coach that was damaged in the shunting accident, once upon a time (2013) while it was still in one piece. The coach was part of the consist of the same Bangalore – Kochuveli train.

A Dirty Coach of Southern Railway part of he KCVL - Bangalore Express

This coach of Southern Railway and Trivandrum Division was manufactured in 1998, but look at it’s decrepit, dirty and rundown condition.

A 2 tier AC coach made in 1990. A friend who traveled in this coach was talking about cobwebs and sand coming through the AC vents and horrible noise and dust inside the coach. Remember, you pay a premium for 2AC.

1989 made coach of the Trivandrum division of Southern Railway

Another Grandfather Coach made in 1989, proud possession of the Trivandrum division and part of the 16316/16315 Kochuveli – Bangalore Express again.

1988 Coach of Amrita Express

And here is a Great-Grandfather! A 1988-made Sleeper Coach doing duty on the Trivandrum – Palakkad Amrita Express spotted in August 2013. Picture courtesy India Rail Info and Hareesh Mangalam.

And there’s more and more…

A 1989 Model Pantry Car on the Netravati Express (You EAT things made in it)

Another 1988 made Sleeper on the Kochuveli – Bikaner Express (Check News Above)  

Filthy Interiors of an AC Chair Car Coach on the Ernakulam – TVC Vanchinad Express

If possible take a look at the Nagercoil – Coimbatore Express. Its coaches epitomize rot.

The Story of Post-Expiry Date Railway Coaches

Railway coaches aren’t supposed to break apart on the slightest provocation. They are supposed to safely carry passengers for thousands of kilometers taking on heavy wear and tear and for a couple of decades. With regular maintenance (Periodic Overhaul – POH once every 12-18 months) they are expected to last for upto 25 years, the estimated service life of a coach on Indian Railways. And 25 year old coaches are usually relegated to passenger services while rarely for express trains. But because Indian Railways is facing a huge shortage of coaches thanks to the large number of (useless) trains introduced into the network by populist politicians, IR cannot afford to send coaches for POH or scrapping them once their service life has ended. Instead, those coaches seem to be assigned to Kerala. Why? Maybe because the state does not matter politically, despite providing Southern Railway with two-thirds of its revenue. Read some reports which substantiate these facts.

Several Incidents Relating to Shortage of Coaches in Kerala

70% of Coaches in Kerala are Over 35 Years Old! – Minister

75% of Coaches in Trivandrum Division are Aged

A Report on the Conditions of Railway Coaches in Kerala

Of course, old coaches run throughout the Indian Railways network. Of course, dirty coaches are onmipresent as Indian Railways in itself is not really world-famous for its cleanliness. But coaches falling apart is not something that is to be joked about. Look at the coach in the first picture. Imagine that happening when the train was hauling ass at 110+ kilometers per hour on one of the better MPS FEDL section with 72+ people in the coach and a thousand more in the train. Thank the powers that are that we all are still in one piece. Now, would this breaking down of coaches happen in some other division, zone or state? Possibly, but it wouldn’t be on the scale of what is seen in TVC and PGT. The coaches were rotten hollow with the the carriage structure rusted off from the inside, especially around the toilets and the bogies, which clearly indicates that either maintenance was not conducted properly or those coaches were simply too old to be run and had to be scrapped, but the railways pushes them on playing with people’s lives and Kerala is considered the ideal dumping ground for these post-expiry date coaches.

Apart from having almost no amenities and track route in the state, Kerala has been the Railway’s favorite joker of the pack. People of “politically important” states get mint-fresh coaches fresh out of the factory for their trains, even if passengers over there don’t believe in formalities like buying tickets and all. And people who give revenues amounting to Rs.200 crore a month get wheezing, creaking and dilapidated coaches which are potential accidents on wheels. Only 8 new coaches were allocated to TVC and nothing to PGT last year. And these new coaches once sent for periodic overhaul do not return and instead we get these two-decade old coaches. How long will we live on a wing and a prayer traveling in these decaying railway coaches? Don’t we also matter? We desperately need a new Railway Zone or atleast a new POH workshop in the state which would solve these issues to an extent but who is listening?


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