A DAY after the stampede on the staircase of the foot overbridge connecting two railway stations – Elphinstone Road on the Western Railway (WR) and Parel on the Central Railway (CR) – that has taken the lives of 23 people, there are many who say that they had flagged off the risks while suggesting measures to prevent a potential tragedy. Following an inspection in April this year by a member of the passenger amenities committee (PAC) appointed by the Railway Ministry, which inspects the requirements and state of passenger amenities at railway stations, warnings relating to the bridge at Elphinstone had been issued, according to Dr Ashok Tripathi, Excerpts from the interview:
When was this inspection conducted and what factors were taken into account?
In our monthly inspection of passenger amenities and provisions at Indian railway stations, we check the nature of works carried by junior and senior officials. Our aim remains to obtain a first-hand account of the provisions available for regular commuters and suggest changes or need for more facilities at the station. We had inspected Elphinstone Road station along with two others in Mumbai on the same day.
What was your observation about that particular bridge inspected that day?
Minutes after my team and I walked on the bridge at the station, the shoddy nature of the work was reflected. They were changing the plates of the steps of the particular staircase which witnessed the incident. Some work on finishing the hand-rest work at the FOB was also going on. The Parel-end staircase was found to be in a worse condition. I recall giving a piece of my mind to all senior railway officials who were present there. I scolded them for the way in which work was being carried out, in the way in which some steps were getting covered, while some were not. As the inspection was carried out during the morning peak hour, I was taken aback at the volume of peak hour rush and the number of people using the single FOB to switch between the two lines. I warned of the need for an alternative bridge at the earliest at the spot before a disaster takes place.
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What suggestions, do you remember, giving to senior railway officials of both CR and WR?
We had clearly instructed that they complete two things on priority on the bridge: First, we asked them to widen the staircase for the smooth movement of commuters. The second suggestion was to build a divider at the earliest between the bridge so that upward and downward movement of the commuters could be segregated.
What action was taken after the inspection?
We are required to submit our observation to the Chairman of the PAC upon our return to New Delhi. A meeting was called with the Railway Board and the then Union Railway Minister, Suresh Prabhu, to discuss our observations. I had specifically recommended corrective action not only to the Board about the need of the bridge at the earliest but also to the Divisional Railway Manager of the WR before we left.
What is the state of the remaining rail bridges on the Railway network?
There exist many foot overbridges and rail overbridges across Indian Railways where commuters and passengers fear risk to their lives while using such bridges. The particular FOB in Old Faridabad station in Haryana shakes whenever a train passes by and another disaster like this is waiting to happen there. In Mumbai, foot overbridges at stations including Jogeshwari, Virar, Vasai on the WR and Diva, Kurla, Parel, Currey Road, Chichpokali and Masjid on the CR were found to be in poor condition during our visits.