Mushtaq Ahmad Kuchhay, a school teacher posted in district Ganderbal is a regular commuter of the train since its first chug.
“Initially it was more of a joyride than commuting, but once its novelty subsided, the loopholes became glaring enough to call for rectification,” says Kuchhay. “Its timing is such that you have to wake up at midnight to catch it if you live 15 km from the station. Secondly, there is no regular bus, minibus or taxi service to the railway station which breaks the tempo of travelling. It is a lot of inconvenience and waste of time,” says Kuchhay.
About 60 percent of commuters from Islamabad constitute of government employees. Tired of the non-availability of public transport at stations, many employees have collectively hired private mini-buses that charge Rs 25 a person for Islamabad-Srinagar journey.
Junaid Ahmad, from Islamabad took a train ride to Srinagar this week.
“It was a compulsion due to strike. Usually, our charted bus takes one hour from Islamabad to Srinagar. I leave home at 8.30 in the morning and reach my office around one hour 15 minutes later. Today I had to leave at 7. I am not sure whether I will reach in time,” says Ahmad.
Of more than 50,000 commuters between Islamabad and Srinagar daily, the railway’s share is a mere 3000. “On an average, 1500 persons travel from our station to Srinagar and other places. Almost every time, the bogies are full to their capacity and sometimes passengers even stand in aisles,” says A R Wani, Station Superintendent at Islamabad.
Accessibility problem is not limited to Islamabad and Srinagar stations only. Five other stations in between face similar problems.
“This station is quite off route causing inconvenience to the commuters especially elderly people, women and children,” says Abdul Majeed Wani, a trader from Tral who boarded the train at Awantipora.
Another major complaint of commuters is the duration between train timings. The fact the only one train runs between Islamabad and Baramulla makes intervals between train runs longer. Commuters say that the train service is almost non-existent between 11 in the morning till four in the afternoon.
“For poor people like us, it is a blessing to reach Srinagar at such a low fare. However, the absence of train service during day hours renders it useless for commuters who are forced to travel in Sumo taxis at an exorbitant rate of Rs 60 per person,” says Tariq Ahmad Sheikh of Muniwar Islamabad.
The stations lack drinking water facilities, adding to the inconvenience of commuters waiting for the train arrival. “If the government is honest in facilitating commuters with a hassle-free train travel, then it has to provide all necessary facilities. Otherwise, it is a mockery of train service which causes more discomfort than other means of transport,” says Aijaz Ahmad, a university student alighting from the train at Nowgam station.