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Danger over the tracks

mumbai Updated: Aug 13, 2010 02:31 IST
Shashank Rao
Shashank Rao
Hindustan Times
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Be careful if you plan to use any of Mumbai’s railway foot over bridges, or FOBs as they are commonly known. Several of these pedestrian bridges are over 60 years old, crumbling and in urgent need of repairs. The rain has only made them more dangerous.

In Mumbai, the Central Railway (CR) maintains 76 such bridges and 40 roads over bridges and under bridges (ROBs/RUBs), while Western Railway (WR) looks after 75 bridges and 29 ROBs/RUBs. These include bridges built by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).

WR conducted a survey a month ago, which found that there were several foot over bridges built by the BMC that could be dangerous for the public

The railways claim that these structures are regularly maintained and monitored. There are also joint inspections conducted with the BMC and an annual maintenance schedule, apart from periodic checks.

However, this claim was proved hollow when on July 27 a part of the bridge railing at Santacruz, along with some stalls put up by hawkers, gave way and hung precariously over the tracks. “The bridge cannot take more than a certain load; the hawkers and their stocks add to the load on the structure,” said WR Divisional Railway Manager G. Pillai.

A similar incident occurred at Charni Road in June-end.

Worried officials pressed the panic button and started a drive to check all of the city’s dangerous foot over bridges, such as the ones at Andheri, Khar and Borivli, shutting some of them until they are repaired.

WR claimed that the BMC has not paid it the money required for the maintenance, as it is required to do. “Why blame us when the BMC, which built the bridges, is slow in disbursing funds for maintenance,” said a senior WR official on condition of anonymity.

Passenger associations said several letters written to the railways, pointing out the precarious condition of the bridges, were ignored. The ones at Santacruz, Andheri, Borivli, Malad and Khar need attention, the letters pointed out. Apart from these, the bridges at Virar, Kandivli, Vasai, Elphinstone Road and Lower Parel are in bad shape. The ROBs in Andheri (South), Elphinstone Road and Charni Road are more than 100 years old and also require attention.

On the CR, a bridge at Chembur nearly collapsed two years ago but there have been no close shaves after that. “We knew that these structures were ageing, so we renovated them,” said a CR official on condition of anonymity.

Yet, there are rickety bridges on this line too. The ones at Sion, Kurla and Ghatkopar and ROBs at Currey Road, Sandhurst Road, Byculla, Reay Road and Ghatkopar are in poor shape. At many places, the retaining walls next to the tracks are cracked and collapsing.

“We have asked the BMC to remove structures adjoining the walls,” said CR Divisional Manager M. Chauhan. Railway officials said there should be at least a 10-metre gap between the tracks and any other structure.

The state-appointed Standing Technical Advisory Committee (STAC), which inspects bridges and roads, studied weak bridges three years ago. But these didn’t include those passing over the tracks, although it identified 58 bridges as ‘dangerous’. “The BMC and the railways should expedite maintenance of these structures,” said N. Merani, who headed STAC. The STAC report made 80 recommendations and asked the BMC to appoint a private consultant to study the bridges.

‘It’s very Dangerous for commuters’

The steel railing on a part of this bridge broke on July 27, hanging precariously over the tracks. Hawkers’ stalls leaning against the railing also nearly fell onto the tracks. Since then, this bridge has been shut and the railing has been removed completely.

However, hawkers have now set up shop at the base of the bridge, leading to great congestion during peak hours.

Manisha Madhtukar, a Santacruz resident, said: “I remember this bridge from my childhood. Earlier, there were two, which was convenient for people wanting to cross between the east and west of the suburb. But, with just one bridge, the walkway is very crowded.”

The station-master was not aware of how old the bridge was. “It’s the civic body’s job to maintain it. If the July 27 incident recurs, it could pose a danger to the trains and commuters below,” he said.


‘Repairs won’t help’


After the Santacruz incident, worried officials shut the Andheri bridge too for repairs. The foreman of the workers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the civic body was supposed to fund the repairs, but had not paid up. However, under public pressure, railway officials decide to start the maintenance work anyway.

Once the work is complete, the bridge will have an extra safety barricade. However, a worker said the repairs would be counter-productive as the width of the bridge would be reduced from 20 feet to 12 feet.

Sayed Ahmed, who owns a shop below, said the bridge was 40 years old. “The Santacruz incident has frightened commuters,” he said.

Sayeda Shaikh, a hawker, said: “The bridge’s closure has inconvenienced school children and commuters. Many of them, including women with infants in their arms, tend to cross the tracks now. It won’t be long before a tragedy occurs.”


Potholes, flooding on this bridge

The bridge, around 20 years old, is among the busiest railway pedestrian bridges in Mumbai. While the structure seems fine at first glance, it shakes noticeably every time a train passes under it.

Like many of Mumbai’s roads, the tar surface is dotted with potholes, which makes walking on it a hazard. Also, water collects in them and one side is almost entirely submerged.

Sangita Jadhav (35), a hawker on the bridge, complained: “The bridge has no roof, so water often collects on a part of it. Thousands of people use this bridge to go from the Central line to the Western line and vice versa. Authorities ought to maintain it.”

Rajesh Ichake, a social worker and a Maharashtra Navnirman Sena office-bearer, said the earlier bridge was weak, which was why a new one was built in 1991-92.

“However, the new one too is in danger of crumbling,” he said.


Better late than never: Residents

Western Railway has shut this pedestrian bridge for maintenance. Kailash Verma, a passenger activist, said: “The condition of the bridge was bad and needed urgent repairs. It’s good that the authorities are finally taking note of its condition.”

As elsewhere, hawkers set up shop at the base of the bridge, creating problems for pedestrians. Work seemed to be on in full swing; concrete slabs and rubble were strewn across the walkway and the safety railings had been removed. Since this bridge is shut, commuters wanting to cross from east to west can take the adjacent bridge. However, there too, several hawkers have set up shop.

— Parvathi Ramanathan