Age, it seems, is catching up with the seven year old Delhi Metro.
The derailment of a train between the Yamuna Bank and Indrprastha stations on Sunday comes a month after a similar incident at Dwarka station and exactly two months after an under construction viaduct collapsed near Zamrudpur in south Delhi killing six people.
There have been stray incidents of train derailments since Delhi Metro started operations in December 2002, but they have always been either at train depots or during trials.
When a metro train got derailed on August 12 at Dwarka station, it was the first time a train with passengers on board faced such a mishap.
“With the Metro network expanding at a concerted pace, expect more such incidents in the future,” said a senior Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) official on condition of anonymity fearing reprisal. “It’s a running system with a train every three minutes. Managing completely flawless operations is a major challenge.”
DMRC said the incident on Sunday occurred prima facie due a problem in the track.
“It seems the maintenance of the track wasn’t proper and there was some problem in the adjustment of the track’s level,” he said.
Considered infallible till about a year ago, DMRC’s reputation suffered the first major jolt when a launcher at a metro site in Laxmi Nagar collapsed on moving traffic in October 2008.
Smaller accidents inside its construction sites have been occurring since the last two years. While DMRC’s safety record and construction practices have come under the scanner in the last one year, Sunday’s incident has also put a question mark on operational safety standards.
Over the last seven years, metro has expanded into a network of 66 kms with three different lines and 59 stations.
About 70 trains make 1,319 trips each day from 6 am to midnight. This leaves only three to six hours for maintenance and the lack of which seems to have caused Sunday's incident.
“This incident is very alarming and points at Delhi Metro’s systematic failure. If we ignore incidents like these, bigger disasters can take place in the future,” said SP Singh of Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training.
“Metro would be three times bigger than it is now in a year’s time and similarly the number of safety failures could multiply," he said. “DMRC always punishes a small fry when something like this happens but what we need is stronger third party safety audit of its construction and operations. Delhi and NCR needs a single inter modal statutory transport body that can check such incidents.”