MUMBAI – Mumbai was crippled for the second time in less than a month after a section of a foot overbridge (FOB) crashed over the Western Railway tracks at Andheri following Tuesday’s heavy rains which left many areas of the city flooded, playing havoc with road and rail traffic.
But a much bigger potential disaster was averted when Chandrashekhar Sawant, the alert motorman of a Churchgate-Dahanu train, saw the bridge collapsing and applied emergency brakes barely 50-60 metres away.
The heroic deed of Sawant earned accolades from Railway Minister Piyush Goyal – who visited the crash site this evening – and he announced a reward of Rs 500,000, plus a felicitation later.
Around 7.30 a.m. – at the height of morning peak hours, Mumbai commuters were left shocked when a portion of the Gokhale Bridge, connecting the east-west over the Andheri station, suddenly caved in trapping at least five persons, and paralysing the suburban and long-distance train services on the Western Railways.
Coming nine months after the Elphinstone Road FOB crash and stampede that left 23 commuters dead, Tuesday’s incident instilled fear among the commuters, especially since at least three jam-packed locals had passed seconds before the bridge crash.
Coupled with torrential overnight rains, the crash severely hit Mumbai’s lifeline — the suburban train services which ferry around eight million commuters daily.
Since Monday night, the city was battered with more than 131 mm rainfall and the surroundings got between 130-210 mm, leading to waterlogging in places like Kandivali, Jogeshwari, Andheri, Ghatkopar, Santacruz, Sion, Kings Circle, Matunga, Kurla, Chembur, Tilak Nagar and other areas.
After struggling on a war-footing with 500 officers and 500 workers managed to restore the Harbour Line from Andheri to CST by 2 p.m., and efforts were onto restore the other main lines, Goyal said.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi expressed concern for Mumbai commuters and urged them to “stay safe”.
“The streets are flooded, citizens stranded, bridges collapsing. Civic governance has collapsed. My thoughts are with the citizens of Mumbai,” he tweeted.
The Opposition Congress and Nationalist Congress Party sharply criticized the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena for the Mumbai mess – second time since the June 9 downpour – and demanded stringent action against those responsible for it.
Mumbai Congress President Sanjay Nirupam and NCP Mumbai President Sachin Ahir unanimously demanded a full audit of all 250-plus bridges, skywalks, flyovers, FOBs, and ROBs crossing the suburban railway network and a white paper on the safety status.
The injured were admitted to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s R.N. Cooper Hospital in Vile Parle, a BMC official said. One of them, a woman, was critical.
Goyal also announced that the Maharashtra government and railways will implement a Rs 65,000-crore package for improving the commuter facilities and other requirements of Mumbai as well a compensation of Rs 100,000 for each of the injured victims.
Earlier, he had ordered an inquiry into the incident and a team of the Commissioner of Railway Safety visited the site for a preliminary assessment.
According to Western Railway spokesperson C.N.K. David, the bridge portion crashed at 7.37 a.m. on the southern-end of the Andheri platform numbers 7-8, damaging the tracks, a portion of the station roof, overhead high-tension wires, electrical equipments and signalling systems.
Local trains operating between Goregaon-Virar and Bandra-Churchgate, besides the Harbour Line from Bandra-CST, and several long-distance trains were cancelled or rescheduled or terminated at various locations, he said.
The incident triggered a blame-game between the railway and the BMC and rekindled the debate among commuters of prioritizing the existing railway networks before implementing the grandiose Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet Train project.
While the Western Railway said the bridge belongs to the BMC, the latter said the crash took place on the portion which was the railway’s responsibility for repairs and maintenance.
With several lakhs of commuters stranded all over the network, many walked down on the railway tracks to the nearest station, and the civic transport body BEST deployed 40 additional bus services between Goregaon and Bandra to clear the rush.
Most commuters bitterly expressed their opposition to the Bullet Train and said the need of the hour is to make the Mumbai lifeline safer and more efficient as peoples’ lives and livelihood depend on it.
The cascading effect of the bridge crash and the heavy downpour was witnessed on the Western Express Highway, the main S.V. Road, Link Road and other arterial roads with traffic jams all over the city and suburbs.
Adding to the chaos was the roof of a BEST double decker bus was partly sliced off when it hit an overhead obstacle near Vakola, besides two other minor incidents – a short-circuit at Virar station and a fire in the Mira Road station ticketing office.