In what is considered to be the most contentious issue relating to women's safety on local trains, the Western Railway will be studying the prospects of turning the middle coach for women into a general compartment after 11pm so that men can board it between 11pm and 6am. Currently, this middle ladies coach is reserved for women for all 24 hours.
The railway police and the Railway Protection Force (RPF) have suggested to turn the middle coach for women into a general compartment after 11pm for safety of women passengers.
The issue has always been a tough one for the railways with several women's groups in the past opposed such relaxations – currently the practice is in force in some first class ladies coaches – saying the presence of men in these coaches after 11pm do nothing for the safety of women.
Speaking with dna, Shailendra Kumar, divisional railway manager (WR), confirmed the suggestion.
"We want the opinion of the public. If need be we will carry out a survey to find out how many women travel during these hours and what are their views on allowing men into the coaches after a certain time in the day. Decision will taken only after considering public opinion," said Kumar.
The suggestion from security agencies comes on the back of an acute shortage of manpower that is now allowing either the railway police or the RPF to post its men in all the ladies' coaches between 9pm and 6am. While two of the ladies' coaches in a local are being manned by either railway police or RPF personnel, the third is generally entrusted to a home guard.
The WR uses 87 rakes to run its daily routine of 1,310 services. According to an official, on an average each 12 coach train has three ladies coaches, including one first class. A 15-coach one has four such ladies coaches while a 9-coach has two ladies coaches.
A survey carried out last year by the RPF showed that WR's RPF unit – with a strength of 1,200 men and another 500 vacancies – would need anything between 128 to 160 men to escort the 50-odd rakes that ply at night between 10pm and 6am.
The shortfall on WR is being replenished by the deployment of home guards but railway authorities said the training of home guards left a lot to be desired and that they couldn't be considered full-fledged policemen.