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Mumbai Monorail is a death trap during fires, say experts

Panel probing November 9 fire says management’s safety manual inadequate in rescuing passengers in case of a blaze

mumbai Updated: Nov 25, 2017 12:31 IST
Tanushree Venkatraman
Tanushree Venkatraman
Hindustan Times
Mumbai Monorail,Fire,Chembur
Two rakes were charred in a fire on November 9 this year.

Experts who conducted a probe after two Monorail rakes caught fire on November 9 termed the incident an act of negligence on part of maintenance and operation staff.

It further stated the safety manual followed by the management is grossly inadequate in case of a fire. As the monorail runs on an elevated track and there are no pathways, it will not be possible to evacuate passengers in case of a fire, the experts stated. Two monorail rakes were reduced to ashes when they caught fire on November 9.

The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), which owns the monorail, ordered a probe through an independent panel of experts. The services of the monorail — India’s first — have remained shut since the fire. In its interim report, the panel termed the incident “an act of negligence on the part of the maintenance and operation staff” and “an error in monorail working.”

The report has named eight staff members of the monorail contractor Scomi Engineering with the “primary responsibility” and blamed the monorail administration for the accident. The report was submitted to the MMRDA by the panel this week. The report states the incident could have been averted had the staff rectified defects in the rake. Significantly, the report says the safety manual followed currently is “grossly inadequate” for evacuation of passengers from a burning train.

It states, “The monorail travels at an elevated guideway. The fire propagates very quickly. In such a situation, it will not be possible to evacuate the passengers travelling in the train as there are no pathways provided for the passengers to come out of the burning train.”

According to the report, the fire broke out at 4.52am on November 9 before reaching Bhakti Park station from the Wadala depot. It states that parts of the burning train also fell down as the fire was noticed only after the rake reached the next station, Mysore Colony. The fire spread to such an extent that even five fire extinguishers were not enough and the brigade had to be called in. The total loss incurred — two burnt coaches, damages caused to the station building, installations and platform — is estimated to be around Rs 33 crore.

Sanjay Khandare, additional metropolitan commissioner, MMRDA said, “This is only an interim report. The final report is yet to be submitted. It is expected next week.” Despite attempts through mail and calls, the representatives of Malaysia-based Scomi were not reachable for a comment.

Officials said the services will be operational only after the final report is submitted.

The report also points out the rake was operating without a valid certificate. The time on the certificate was rectified after the incident, it states. According to the report, the fitness certificate was issued on November 8 at 11am with a validity up to November 9, 12.30am. The figure was later changed to 23.59 hours of the same date. The rake was also being used for trial runs from 12am till 4am for Phase-II of the monorail.

Lack of inspection resulted in the staff not noticing a flat tyre, which eventually caused the incident. The flat tyre rotated a lot more, causing friction and sparks that eventually burnt down the coaches. “The accident could have been averted had the operation and maintenance staff only allowed the train to run after attending to the defects,” the report states.

The committee recommended that “no train should be allowed to run for passenger traffic unless the train is properly examined and made fit to run without any defects..” It also stated that the administration should make sure that smoke/fire detectors are installed in the coaches and fire-retardant material is used for the coaches.

Planned as part of Mumbai’s infrastructure makeover project, the monorail currently runs on the Wadala to Chembur stretch. The second phase, up to Jacob Circle (Saat Rasta), is ready and the trials are on before the service is inaugurated here. Currently, an average 18,000 passengers use the Wadala-Chembur monorail.

First Published: Nov 25, 2017 12:30 IST