Chennai’s bush-fires are causing regular train disruptions

Chennai Central’s suburban terminal has been witnessing disruptions to service of a freakishly rare kind. Services disrupted due to lack of visibility. That too in the mid-afternoon. Surprised? Of course, fog cannot be the reason, as Chennai, as the cliché goes, has only three seasons – hot, hotter, and hottest.

Services were disrupted on 7 January, 2019. On 2 February, 2019. And again, on 3 February, 2019. The reason – burning of garbage and plant waste.

The area between the Buckingham Canal and the Moore Market Complex housing Chennai’s suburban terminal has thick foliage of overgrowth of shrubs and bushes. Southern Railways frequently clear up the area to keep it clean. The cleared foliage is let to dry. ‘This time is that the dry shrubs and deadwood caught fire, and the raging fire was not a safety hazard per se for train operations. But the smoke and soot flying around reduced the visibility for the motormen, and this was a safety issue,’ explains a senior official posted at the Chennai Central station.

On one occasion, the fire died a slow death and the embers did not pose any threat. On two other occasions, the fire service had to be called in. The fire was brought under control in about a couple of hours, during which the train services came to a grinding halt.

‘Railway authorities should not be lax just because it is a bush fire’, says Srikanth a regular passenger, adding ‘they should find out the person responsible and take strong action.’ It is the disruption that causes most havoc, according to passengers. ‘A carelessly thrown cigarette butt could be the reason for this – we have increased patrolling in the vicinity,’ the aforementioned official added.

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