Morning commute in New Delhi
NEW DELHI, February 27, 2015 – I joined AFP at the start of the month, as a photojournalist in New Delhi, and I’m looking to do something different to illustrate the big story of the week: the unveiling of the annual rail budget.
I have heard of a station in the Delhi suburbs – called Loni – where the trains travel into the city each morning with hundreds of commuters hanging on the outside. AFP’s photographers across India have been on the lookout for strong railway images in the run-up to the announcement. This sounds to me like a great picture, so I head there a day before the budget is presented.
I have to be there by eight in the morning, and have some trouble finding the right spot to take my pictures. But finally I am set up, at a railway crossing just along the tracks from the station - where I can see the train chugging straight towards me.
Delhi is one of the world’s most populous cities. The centre can’t absorb 25 million people, so many have to live in satellite towns, across what is called the National Capital Region, and commute in each morning to work or college.
On this train line, there are clearly far more people than there are places inside, so the stragglers cling onto a railing, door or window or climb onto a carriage roof, covering a few kilometres that way.
At the end of the day, it is not only the discomfort of having to hang on to a train to go to school or work. If you look at the picture, you can see they are risking their lives.
The trains are travelling at normal speed, so pretty fast. Most of the people climb on while the train is in the station, but I also see some jump on when it is already moving. You can see a guy being pulled up by another in one of the pictures – it is so dangerous.
Congestion in Delhi isn’t just a railway problem: I get chatting to the man who operates the railway crossing as I can see he isn’t lowering his barrier, holding up the train which is already running late.
He tells me he is getting angry calls from the station master ordering him to close the crossing, but there is just too much road traffic – not just cars but tractors, buffalos, trucks, everything flowing over the tracks.
Finally the train pulls away, travelling slowly at first - the driver seems aware he is carrying people on the roof. He honks at me to get out of his way – as if to say, ‘Man, you are bang in front of my train!’
The passengers just wave at me - that’s India: people here go crazy when they see a camera.
Soon I have to get away from the tracks to save myself. I shoot the train as it passes me, and as it pulls away I get this picture of a man splayed across the back. Like Spiderman: I love this shot.
Looking at the passengers’ smiles, you could think they are happy with the situation. I’d say that’s both a good and a bad thing about Indians – they are very adaptable.
These are lower and middle class people – a lot of students if I am correct. Certainly not rich guys. I don’t think they have a choice. They get up each morning and have to get into Delhi by a certain time. How else can they manage?
I had heard about this station as being particularly crowded and I don’t know how common a sight this is in Delhi – I have certainly never seen it before. I had seen people climbing onto trains in Bangladesh, and once at a festival along the River Ganges in northern India, but it is the first time I see people clinging on to a train just to go to work.
An Indian railway signalman talks on a radio at a station in the southern city of Secunderabad on February 25, 2015
(AFP Photo / Noah Seelam)
Personally, I wouldn’t ride on a train like this – except to take a picture for work, and then only if I knew I could quickly get off!
Delhi has improved a lot in the last 10 years. The metro has been a big transport boost. But looking at these trains, how incredibly crowded they are, it is obvious more needs to be done. People need more trains.
The government pledged this week to invest $137 billion in the rail network. I don’t know how much of that will go to Delhi, but I hope that as the network is modernised, pictures like this will become a thing of the past.
Money Sharma is an AFP photographer in New Delhi.