Over the past few years, Parsi Times has been receiving an increasing number of distress calls from members of our community traveling to Udvada via outstation trains, who claim that boarding the trains at the Udvada railway station is extremely inconvenient for most, and virtually impossible for the elderly, due to the huge gap between the footboard and the platform. This hurdle, combined with the limited time that the trains stand at the station, has resulted in numerous unfortunate incidents causing injuries, especially to seniors.
On Reaching Platform No. 1 (West-side) of Udvada Railway Station, we physically measured the height and distance between the railway track and the platform. The height between the railway tracks and the platform is a mere 23 inches. The distance between the platform and the footboard of outstation trains measures 45 inches. According to the Railway Board, the nationally prescribed height of platforms from the tracks should be a minimum of 33 inches, which means that Udvada Station violates the standard norms, falling short of the legal requirement for safety, by a dangerously wide gap of nearly one foot!
This investigation was carried out first-hand at Udvada station by Parsi Times, on 11 different trains that depart from Mumbai through the day and halt at Udvada, including the more-frequented ones like Gujarat Express, Saurashtra Express, Virar-Bharuch Shuttle, Virar-Surat Shuttle, Firozepur Express, Umargaon-Vadodara Memu, Virar-Valsad-Bandra Passenger, Ahmedabad Passenger and Valsad Express amongst others.
Traveling to the holy grail of Zoroastrians, Udvada to pay homage to Pak Iranshah seems to be a herculean task, especially for the elderly. We witnessed elderly Parsis being physically lifted and put aboard the train by family members. Speaking to Parsi Times, Roossi Talati, an Udvada resident, said “Not just the elderly, even the middle-aged are insecure to travel alone because of the huge gap. If no family member is there to help the person safely alight, co-passengers do the needful. But the gap surely needs to be taken into consideration.”
A few passengers were even noticed traveling with a small stool! A native of Udvada, who regularly travels to Navsari and Surat, told PT, “We carry a small portable stool whenever we travel, not just for our family members but also for co-passengers. Though this too is risky, there is no other option.” A local from Udvada, Dahiben (80 years) said, “It’s impossible to board the train without the help of a family member. I have to depend on someone whenever I wish to travel to Surat and nearby places.”
Adding to this ‘death gap’ despair is the fact that most outstation trains halt at Udvada station for a meagre one to two minutes, adding to the difficulty and fear of alighting along with heavy luggage. Another major aspect brought to light, passengers without any platform to alight the train from, should their tickets belong to compartments off the station’s length. As a result they have to get into the wrong compartment, lugging their baggage with them and manoeuver their way all through the insides of the train to finally reach their allotted seat/berth!
However, there has been some relief – the length of Platform No. 1, where most trains from Mumbai halt, has been extended to accommodate the length of the trains, so that the platform is alongside all compartments. Also, the height of this extension has been considerably increased. Even so, this increase in height caters to only the newly constructed platform which comprises only 20% of the entire platform – the old platform maintains the disturbingly dangerous nearly one-foot gap.
Our attempt at trying to get an answer from the authorities was left unanswered but a few retired residents of Udvada, who spend most evenings chatting by the railway benches and know the internal processes, informed PT that the Udvada station, being a gaam or village, does not generate enough footfall or revenue to bear construction expenses, and hence railway authorities tend to neglect it. Especially surprising, as recently Udvada was coined as the ‘Cultural and Heritage Center’ by the Department of Tourism, Government of Gujarat. It is important that these woes are brought to the urgent attention of the Western Railway authorities and the Gujarat Government, to ensure that they address these problems faced by our community at the earliest.
As always looking out for our community, Vada Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor said, “We have already approached the Railway Ministry, the Collector and the Government of Gujarat regarding the height of the platform, and they have assured us that the needful will be done as soon as possible”. Parsi Times will keep our readers updated about further developments on the same.