Crowds, chaos as Mumbai’s Lower Parel rail bridge is closed for repairs
There was a near-stampede situation on Tuesday morning outside Lower Parel station, after the road overbridge (RoB) was shut for vehicular traffic as well as pedestrians. The reason: despite several rounds of meetings between various authorities, there was no concrete public dispersal plan for pedestrians and initially, there was neither signage nor personnel to direct the crowds.
Mumbai traffic police in coordination with the Western Railways (WR) and the BMC had planned to shut down the RoB at Lower Parel station, which was built in 1921 and found unsafe during a safety audit conducted by Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT-B) on July 17. An inspection of all railway bridges across the city is being conducted following the collapse of Gokhale Bridge in Andheri earlier this month. Based on the report, it was decided that the bridge would be rebuilt and closed to both pedestrians and vehicles on July 20.
In anticipation of this, the traffic police announced a diversion plan for vehicles.
The road closure forced Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) to divert seven bus routes via Bharat Mata-Elphinstone Road Bridge. However, no authority had thought about east-west connectivity for pedestrians at the stations. Most commuters were unaware that they would have to use a service lane or a staircase, both of which are narrow.
“We had requested railway officers to allow the pedestrians to use the bridge, but they claimed that the entire bridge is dangerous,” said Ajay Chaudhary, a Shiv Sena legislator who has asked Mayor Vishwanath Mahadeshwar to call a joint meeting of all three authorities to find a solution.
Ravinder Bhakar, chief spokesperson of WR, said the bridge was not safe for pedestrian traffic. “We asked to shut the bridge only after receiving the recommendation of the IIT Bombay report,” he said.
Lower Parel station has a footfall of 1,50,000 passengers and close to 75,000 use the station every day. Daily, lakhs walk between Lower Parel station on WR, Currey Road on Central Railway (CR) and N M Joshi Marg to reach offices in the surrounding areas. In a situation that had ominous similarities to the 2017 stampede at Elphinstone Road station, the railway, civic and traffic police authorities had not taken note of the pedestrian traffic between the two stations that are located about 200 meters from each other.
“A large crowd accumulated to go up the narrow staircase to reach the station or go towards the west side, as there was no other option. As a result, the situation became chaotic. We were praying that there would not be stampede as the crowd got stuck and there was no way out,” said an eyewitness? who remembers the girl next to him was crying.
Mahadeo Dorugade, a Currey Road resident, said he was on his way to office in Lower Parel when he was swept up by the huge crowd. “Due to peak hour rush, some people were trying to rush towards their offices on the west side of the railway line, while passengers were alighting on the station were coming from the opposite side. Neither group was moving ahead nor there scope to turn back. Parked vehicles were also obstacles,” said Dorugade. It took him more than 20 minutes to climb the staircase from the junction, instead of the usual five minutes. According to locals, the situation eased around 10.30 am when the police arrived and created a passage through private property. Commuters blamed lack of coordination between various authorities for their troubles. “Before shutting the bridge for traffic, why didn’t the authorities inform public about an alternate route? Why were parked cars and other obstacles were not removed from the service lane?” asked Laxman Revane, a resident. By noon, the BMC had put up boards and removed obstacles from the service lane. In the evening, WR issued a passenger dispersal plan and deployed the Railway Police Force (RPF) at the stations. According to the plan, passengers should use the foot overbridges (FoB) to the north and south. Ropes would be introduced to facilitate a queue if the crowd swells at the station.
The locals reported that the situation was better in the evening.