Mumbaikars, in their daily rush to and from their work locations, rely heavily on the ‘locals’ (as the suburban trains are called in Mumbai). Friday, September the 29th, was no different, except, reportedly, the commuters at the Elphinstone Road railway station along with those at Parel railway station waiting to exit on a common footbridge were caught in an unexpected downpour. They were stuck on the crowded footbridge for quite a while, until the patience of some of them ran out and, in their struggle to exit, they pushed at those waiting on the stairs.
In the melee that ensued, some fell down, and then there was a stampede, with some miscreants shouting that the footbridge was collapsing, resulting in heavy casualties. A detailed enquiry will perhaps reveal nothing more while the GRP (Government Railway Police) have no clue as to against whom the FIR should be lodged.
Ultimately, it is the big, bad, uncaring government-run behemoth—the Indian Railways—which, as usual, gets blamed for failing to remove, ages ago, this offending bottleneck.
Both print and electronic media, which extensively covered the mishap, have emphasised certain ‘tweets’ that had warned that ‘it was an accident waiting to happen’. They may be right, but then there could be scores of such critical spots or bottlenecks that can result in a similar stampede if people are not patient, disciplined and responsible citizens. Amidst all this finger-pointing, the root cause—i.e., a stampede for no apparent reason—has been lost sight of.
Extensive development of the now defunct Mumbai cotton mills compounds around Elphinstone Road and Parel railway stations has resulted in a quantum jump in footfalls—to over 3 lakh—at these two nondescript stations where fast locals normally don’t stop. In addition, the creation of the Bandra-Kurla Mega Business Complex—and brand new suburbs at Vashi and Nhava Sheva on the Central Railway and Bhayandar, Mira Road and Virar on the Western Railway—have stretched the services to the optimum.
Consequent to the explosive growth in the commuter traffic, many more such bottlenecks would have come up over the years, and railway minister Piyush Goyal ordering an immediate audit on the entire infrastructure of the vast suburban network of both Central and Western Railway systems would speed up identifying these.
The action taken post such an audit would also include approach to these stations, up to 100 metres, being cleared of any temporary or permanent structures, including the ubiquitous hawkers, which may impede smooth movement of passengers. Keeping this thorny issue in mind, Mumbai Nagar Palika has been roped in as a part of the task force set up jointly by the ministry of railways and CM Maharashtra.
Unfortunately, in all this blame game and scores of panel discussions on electronic media and elsewhere, significant upgrades that have been carried out so far, and those in the pipe line, seldom get mentioned.
The Western Railway system which had, for ages, survived with just four tracks to run over 3,000 of both slow and fast locals as well as long-distance main line trains, now has six tracks between Andheri and Mumbai Central—and of which four are exclusively for suburban services.
MRVC (Mumbai Railway Vikas Corporation), set up in 1999 as a joint venture of ministry of railways and government of Maharashtra, is busy executing a number of projects. Its phase-1 will add 93 route km of additional corridors between Borivali-Virar and Kurla-Thane, while phase-2 will provide fifth and sixth line between CST and Kurla, and Thane-Diva. A sixth line between Borivali and Mumbai Central and extension of the Harbour line from Andheri to Goregaon will add an entirely new leg.
However, it appears that the existing infrastructure with the above additions has reached its optimum size for lack of any room for new tracks or space for stations to grow. In this connection, initiatives being taken by MMRDA (Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority) and MMRC (Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited) to supplement Indian Railways’ efforts have perhaps come not too soon.
Consisting mostly of elevated corridors, the Mumbai Metro’s 11.4-km line-1 already connects Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar since 2014, while the proposed 19-km line-2A will connect DN Nagar with Dahisar, and the 24-km line-2B will connect DN Nagar with Mandale. The 32-km line-4 will connect Wadala with Kasarvadavali and the 17-km line-7 Andheri (East) to Dahisar (East).
For Mumbaikars, patience is the key, for the world’s most heavily travelled commuter system ferrying a whopping 8 million passengers per day on the 430-km-long combined network of Central and Western Railways will remain at their service, improving each day, and carrying out its herculean task 24×7 for another century—if not more.