Five days before the Delhi Metro was to launch its Noida leg, its first outside city limits, a mechanical failure in one of its swanky new trains led to a near stampede.
With 700 people on board, the train halted half inside an underground tunnel and half on the ramp near the Rajiv Chowk station on November 8. The lights and the air-conditioning failed. As passengers opened emergency gates to escape, a melee ensued. Four commuters suffered fractures and the Metro’s reputation another bruise.
Sunday’s mishap in the nation’s showcase public transport — which came within months of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) chief E. Sreedharan offering to quit after a pillar collapsed — is being watched closely, especially as the Commonwealth Games are less than a year away.
<b1>Besides, DMRC is providing consultancy to similar projects in Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Kochi and Pune. It is also preparing a study for the Jakarta Metro (in Indonesia) and one on the extension of the Kolkata Metro.
“We are aware of the incidents,” said K.P. Maheshwari, director, Mumbai Metro One Private Ltd, which is building a 12-km line from Ghatkopar (north east Mumbai) to Versova (West Mumbai). “Accordingly we will make changes in our system.”
The near-stampede, attributed to a snag in the traction system, came four days after another train manufactured by Bombardier Transport got stuck in an underground section.
Officials of the Germany-based company, which is manufacturing coaches for Delhi Metro’s second phase, dismissed the incidents nonchalantly.
“Such problems in the electrical system happen sometimes when a train is introduced,” said Luis Ramos, director, communications, Bombardier Transportation. “It is not related to the safety and security of passengers.”
Delhi Metro Rail Corporation spokesperson Anuj Dayal said the incident would not delay the launch of the Noida line. However, the people’s confidence in the city’s lifeline is shaken.
“I won’t travel in the metro now,” said R.P. Chopra (58), who was travelling with his wife, son-in-law and an elderly relative during the mishap. “Technical failures are occurring too frequently for my comfort.”
The reactions may appear extreme in a city increasingly shifting to a quicker, greener mode of transport.
According to the Central Road Research Institute, the Delhi Metro keeps 57,953 vehicles off the city’s roads every day.
But concerns over safety are mounting. “Their safety manuals are impeccable. But Delhi Metro officials don’t practise what they preach,” said Pradeep Chaturvedi, former president (safety and quality forum) of the Institution of Engineers. “They have to bring back operational discipline in their work culture.”
Nurturing a culture of safety in a developing country like India takes time, contend DMRC officials. “We hold regular workshops for more than 40,000 construction workers,” said Mangu Singh, director (works), DMRC.
“But there is always scope for improvement.”
From 30,000 passengers travelling on a 6.5-kilometre stretch in 2003 to a 76-km network on three lines catering to 900,000 passengers every day, the Metro has come a long way.
By 2010, the Metro’s 190-km network will draw two million travellers. But the pressure on its resources is growing. With the Delhi Transport Corporation increasing fares, many more commuters will come to rely on the Metro.
The infrastructure of the public transport system hasn’t kept pace with its dizzy growth.
Overcrowding, shoving and train delays have become frequent.
With the opening of the Noida leg, the first connecting a satellite town with the metropolis, and bus fares rising, the Metro’s woes may only rise.
“We are ready to face the challenge. We have placed an order for 424 coaches (37 four car trains and 46 six car trains) which will augment our fleet of trains,” Dayal said.
Will that be enough to restore the travellers’ faith?