Elphinstone Road stampede: Why Mumbai needs a separate authority to run local trains

After a marathon 10-hour meeting, a senior official from the Railway Board admitted to HT such a body has been in consideration

mumbai Updated: Oct 02, 2017 09:49 IST
Aroosa Ahmed
Aroosa Ahmed
Hindustan Times
Elphinstone Road stampede,Mumbai commute,trains in Mumbai
So far, the statistics of 10 people dying every day on the network had remained far removed for the senior railway bureaucracy, said local officials.(HT File)

The Elphinstone Road station stampede that killed 23 commuters has once again highlighted the need for a separate authority for the city’s suburban railway network.

The stampede caused by negligence and apathy of the railway administration points directly to a system that has not prioritised the city’s commuting needs despite running a behemoth operation.

Activists and experts have blamed the existing structure of railways that puts Western and Central railway chiefs at the helm of suburban railway, but they are also saddled with the responsibility of long-distance trains and freight operations.

From 2010, proposals from passenger activists to have an independent authority for the suburban railway network to run day-to-day services, maintain them, address commuter woes, have gone unheeded. Post the stampede, things may change.

Senior railway board officials admitted such an authority was on the anvil.

After a marathon 10-hour meeting, a senior official from the Railway Board admitted to HT such a body has been in consideration and would have to be given a rethink now, but it was too early to talk about the details.

There is a reason why such an authority makes sense to reluctant railway officials. On Saturday, the entire Railway Board — it holds purse strings for city railway projects from foot overbridges to new services — visited Mumbai after being summoned by Union railway minister Piyush Goyal for a meeting.

Senior officials told HT they were surprised to see the state of the local suburban rail network — the cramped foot overbridges, commuters packed inside local train compartments and stations and the hawker menace.

“We were shocked to see the extent of congestion on the suburban railway network. The presence of hawkers, the state of overbridges are a matter of concern,’’ said a senior board member.

So far, the statistics of 10 people dying every day on the network had remained far removed for the senior railway bureaucracy, said local officials.

There has been a strong case for such a body.

Madhu Kotian, president, Mumbai Rail Pravasi Sangh, who led a delegation to the railway board in 2010 asking for a separate body for the operations of the suburban rail network, said if the this demand had been met, the Elphinstone Road tragedy would have not occurred. “The body would have taken important decisions pertaining to the suburban rail network.” Kotian said.

Lata Argade, vice-president, Railway Pravasi Mahasangh, said, “A suburban body for the railway network is very important because 75 lakh passengers commute every day. The daily income from suburban rail passengers is quite high and a suburban body will help in taking everyday decisions.’’

Currently, the only city-based railway authority is the Mumbai Rail Vikas Corporation (MRVC), but this was set up largely to implement the Mumbai Urban Tranport Projects funded by the World Bank, along with the railways and the state government.

A report by the Observer Research Foundation Mumbai on why the suburban railway should have a separate zone states the general managers of both Central and Western Railway devote their time and attention to the entire zone, of which suburban rail plays a very small part. The report states the first priority of both the zonal railways is to look into freight operations that are a primary source of revenue for Indian Railways. The report further states that a unified suburban rail zone would benefit the operations of the local trains and also in procurement of accounts.

Subodh Jain, former Railway Board member, however, said there cannot be a separate body until the infrastructure for the mail express and the suburban is changed. “The suburban operations cannot be separated unless infrastructure is done and separated. The 5th and 6th line work for the separation for the separation of mail express trains and local trains and the work of Parel Terminus has been sanctioned but not executed yet,’’ he said.

First Published: Oct 02, 2017 09:34 IST