The 150-year-old Dr MGR Ramachandran Central railway station in Chennai went silent on Sunday, 26 February 2023, making it the first in India to do so, as it bid adieu to the public announcement system that has guided passengers to their trains for decades. Taking a cue from airports, the station is trading the omnipresent ‘voice’ for more inquiry booths and visual display boards.
In the order announcing the change, issued on Saturday, 25 February 2023 by Southern Railway general manager R N Singh, officials were told to ensure all visual display boards are in working condition and to deploy sufficient staff at inquiry booths for a smooth passenger experience.
Large digital screens displaying the arrival and departure of trains in Tamil, Hindi and English have been installed at all three entry points to the station, namely, EVR Periyar Salai (MTC bus stop), suburban terminus, and Wall Tax Road (gate no 5). Concourse areas have also been covered with 40-60 inch digital boards.
The PA system will continue for suburban trains. Mentioning that the move was undertaken on an “experimental basis”, an official spokesperson of the Chennai railway division said there will be no audio from advertisements as well. “Passenger information centres manned by railway staff will guide travelers,” he said.
Mixed response from passengers on ‘silent’ Central rly station
The station handles nearly 200 express trains, including 46 pairs of daily trains, and an average daily footfall of 5.3 lakh. The voice behind Tamil announcements is of Kavitha Murugesan, a dubbing artist and college lecturer based in Erode.
The public announcement system was used for disseminating information about train arrivals, departures, delays, and location of trains. It was proved effective during accidents and natural disasters, and for passengers with visual impairments. To aid the disabled, the station has now installed braille navigation maps at its main entrance. QR codes have also been pasted across the place for persons with disabilities to access a sign language video providing an overview of the station.
A railway official said additional infrastructural improvements will be taken up based on passengers’ experience. “As part of the station redevelopment, larger display boards will be put at the entrance. Inquiry counters will also be increased,” the official said.
S Vasanth Perumal, a resident of Salem, who boarded Coimbatore-bound Intercity Express at central station, told TNIE the absence of the announcements had hardly made a difference. “Even before listening to the PA system I would look up the train departure on display boards. Without the noise, the ambience here will see a change,” he said.
R Pandiyaraja, former member, Southern Railway Users’ Consultative Committee feared it is too early for ordinary passengers to follow boards and access the station without announcement. “Rail passengers cannot be equated with air passengers,” he said.
Braille maps, QR codes for disabled
For disabled passengers, the station has installed braille navigation maps at its main entrance. QR codes are pasted across the station for persons with disabilities to access a sign language video of the station’s overview. Improvements will be based on passengers’ experience, said an official