Mumbai buckles under bridge collapse, heavy rain, cancelled trains
A portion of an overbridge collapsed due to heavy rain at Mumbai’s Andheri station leaving thousands of peak-hour commuters stranded across several stations on the suburban rail network.Updated: Jul 04, 2018 00:00 IST
Nine months after a railway bridge stampede that killed 23 people at Elphinstone Road, a key station on the Western Railway suburban network in Mumbai, a 70-metre slab of a pedestrian bridge at Andheri on the same network collapsed early on Tuesday, injuring six persons, one of them critically.
Portions of the bridge fell onto the tracks below on a day the city was lashed by rains, disrupting the peak-hour commute and affecting thousands of office-goers and college students. Approximately 3.6 million people travel each day on 1,355 trips on the 123-km-long suburban western line – one of the seven suburban lines operating in Mumbai, including the Monorail and the Metro.
While railway minister Piyush Goyal announced an inquiry into the incident by the commissioner of railway safety, local officials said on condition of anonymity that the bridge developed a crack last year and no action had been taken despite a structural audit that was promised following the Elphinstone Road stampede on September 29, 2017. Heavy rain also contributed to the bridge collapse, they added. Mumbai recorded 131.4 mm of rainfall (classified as “heavy”) in the suburbs in the 24 hours ending 8.30 am on Tuesday, and a further 84.8 mm until 5.30 pm. Malad, a western suburb of Mumbai, recorded 187 mm of rain until 8.30 am on Tuesday.
At a media conference on Tuesday evening, Goyal announced that a structural audit of 445 cantilever bridges built over railway tracks and roads and other places in Mumbai would be conducted in the next six months by the railways and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) “under the guidance of IIT-Bombay”. The audit will look into flaws in design and construction of the bridges. Goyal said the last audit of the collapsed Andheri bridge was conducted on November 12, 2017, and no abnormality was found at the time.
“I have ordered a Commissioner of Railway Safety inquiry, and the report will be submitted in 15 days,” Goyal said. “500 railway personnel are working on restoring the services. We have called experts from Lucknow and Delhi, including from Central Railway. I saw the design of the bridge and studied the drawings. The 40-year-old bridge was a cantilever bridge and because it was a cantilever, it seems to have collapsed.”
Tuesday’s incident brought back memories of the October 2009 Kopari Bridge mishap at Thane in Central Railway (CR), when a precast girder fell on a moving train, killing two people, including the train’s driver.
On Tuesday, thousands of peak-hour commuters were stranded across several stations on the suburban network, with many complaining that there was no clear communication on the public announcement system installed at all stations. “We had to rely on WhatsApp updates from friends and online media reports,” one commuter in Borivli said.
Services between Goregaon and Bandra continued to remain suspended at the time of going to the press and were likely to be restored only after midnight, railway officials said. All other services on the Western line resumed by noon on Tuesday. The disruption of services led to the ‘Dabbawalas’ – the city’s famed tiffin delivery service – suspending their operations as they depend on trains. “We are completely dependent on railways to deliver dabbas. When the railway services stop and there is heavy traffic on road, there is no way we can work,” said Subhash Talekar, spokesperson of the Mumbai Dabbawala Association.
Mumbai’s woes on Tuesday did not end with the bridge collapse or disrupted train services (or missed lunches). Heavy rain across the city led to water logging in low-lying areas, causing traffic jams on arterial roads as well as on the two main city highways, and the newly-built Eastern Freeway.
Municipal and traffic authorities reported water logging from at least 21 locations. A boy was suspected to have fallen into a stormwater drain in Bandra, and a search is on. In August 2017, a city doctor had fallen into a drain during a similar downpour, and his body was found two days later and five kilometres from where he fell, leading to citizen outrage and a call for greater accountability of civic authorities.
After the infamous July 2005 deluge that brought the city to a halt for nearly a week, civic authorities and the state government had initiated a plan for a modern stormwater drainage system – the Brihanmumbai Stormwater Disposal System (BRIMSTOWAD) – at a cost of ?12,000 crore. It was to be completed by 2013. Until June 2017, however, only 28 of the proposed 58 projects were completed. BRIMSTOWAD was conceived to double the water-receding capacity of the city’s drains from 25-30 mm per hour to 50mm per hour.
On Tuesday, a blame game erupted between the city’s municipal corporation and the railway authorities. BJP’s member of Parliament Kirit Somaiya said the civic body (run by the Shiv Sena) was responsible for the bridge.
Mayor Vishwanath Mahadeshwar, a Sena leader, retorted saying the Railways maintained it and BMC provided only the funds.
BMC claims it had paid money to the Railways for the bridge’s upkeep, but admitted that there has been no correspondence between the two since 2011.
Western Railway, too, pointed a finger at BMC for failing to maintain the bridge, but later changed its tune. “The bridge belongs to both BMC and Railways. As of now, we cannot say as to how it collapsed,” said Sanjay Mishra, divisional railway manager, Western Railway. A municipal officer from the bridges department said, “If a collapsed portion falls in the railway premises, it becomes the responsibility of the railway authorities.”
However, Goyal tried to brush aside the differences, and said, “We should look into what we can do, instead of blaming each other.”