Awaiting confirmation from the Railway Board, the continuation of the special trains running between Coimbatore and Mettupalayam is hanging in balance.
Following persistent demands and repeated representations, three pairs of special trains were introduced on this section on June 1. After a month, the Southern Railway proposed a 10-day extension for the train besides cancellation of one service on either direction, which triggered an agitation. Later, the Railways announced the extension of the two pairs of services for another month i.e., till July 31.
The demand for train services between Coimbatore and Mettupalayam was born out of many factors: narrow and battered stretch of Mettupalayam Road proving to be an accident- prone stretch witnessing an ever-increasing pressure on traffic. In addition, the road on either side has a large number of industries and educational institutions besides mushrooming residential localities. The road is also a gateway to Udhagamandalam.
In the absence of frequent and convenient train connectivity, there is an increasing pressure on road traffic. Not withstanding the once in a while travellers, the regular commuters on this section- students, office-goers and industrial workers - would ensure adequate patronage for these trains.
The train service barring Sundays had a patronage of over 79,000 people fetching a revenue of over Rs. 5 lakh. Even Railways admits to adequate occupancy ratio and patronage for these trains while peak hour services are fully packed to their capacity, points out K. Kathirmathiyon, Secretary of Coimbatore Consumer Cause (CCC).
The patronage is sure to increase if the en-route stations such as Thudialur, Pudupalayam and Urumandampalayam which are in a dilapidated conditions are renovated.
The train at present stops only at Coimbatore North, Periyanaickenpalayam and Karamadai. T.T. Arangasamy of Mettuppalayam Residents Welfare Association said that two decades ago, there were as many as five services between these destinations.
Instead of providing more services, the Railways had chosen to go on the ‘reverse gear', stopping all services and operating only special trains on a temporary schedule.
Mr. Kathirmathiyon said that the Railways should operate the services for a minimum of six months at convenient timings so that it becomes popular. He aaded that the Road Safety-cum-Traffic Advisory Committee meetings regularly stressed the need for train services to decongest Mettupalayam Road and reduce accident rate.
Mr. Arangasamy pointed out that on the revenue front also, the special trains had fared well registering an occupancy rate of 118 and 120 per cent during peak hours and above average patronage during non-peak hours.
When contacted, the Divisional Railway Manager-Salem, P.N. Ram, said that a proposal for extending the services had already been forwarded to the headquarters and the approval was expected any time from the Railway Board. With hardly a few days to go for July-end, the people remain anxious on the fate of the train service.