‘Why was Mahalaxmi Express allowed to ply on flooded tracks?’: Activists
While Central Railway (CR) blamed “a sudden spell of intense rainfall” for Mahalaxmi Express getting stranded on Saturday, activists have questioned why the train, with 1,052 people on board, was permitted to travel on heavily-flooded tracks.
One passenger asked, “Why did the Railways allow the train to pass Badlapur station when they knew that the tracks ahead were flooded?” Activists have also raised questions about the time it took for the rescue operation to get underway. “If Mahalaxmi Express’s driver had informed [authorities], why did it take so many hours for the agencies to start the rescue operation?” said commuter activist Subhash Gupta.
Activists said the Railways should have conducted a foot survey of the tracks as per standard safety procedure. “Ideally railway should have done patrolling of the entire stretch before sending the train from Badlapur,” said an activist requesting anonymity.
Mahalaxmi Express was first delayed when it reached Ambernath station, where the tracks were flooded, at 10pm on Friday. The train left Ambernath at 3.35am. At the time National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams were rescuing passengers from local trains at Ambernath. Soon after leaving Badlapur station at 3.53am, Mahalaxmi Express got stuck in floodwater. Railway authorities said that the water at the spot was almost 17 inches deep.
“The train had proceeded on its way as water had begun receding, but after a sudden spell of intense rainfall, coupled with overflowing of the Ulhas river, the train was completely stuck in deep water at Vangani,” said CR, in its release.
Passengers would remain stranded at the spot for hours. Some tried to swim to safety by jumping off the train. A multi-agency rescue operation began at 10.30am on Saturday and all 1,052 passengers were rescued by 3.30pm.
Railway officials said that before Mahalaxmi Express, an outstation train had taken that route and not reported any difficulty. Later, suburban local motorman did report flooding in the area, but by then, the express train had left Badlapur. Water levels rose suddenly within a few minutes due to heavy showers and the nearby Ulhas river which had overflowed.