An AUDIT in November last year was not the only recent examination conducted on GK Gokhale Bridge in Andheri that collapsed on Tuesday morning. A pre-monsoon inspection of all bridges on railway properties conducted had also not found the bridge posing any risk. Conceding that the inspection conducted three months ago did not identify the bridge as dangerous, senior railway officials are now contemplating revising the parameters for such examination.
Officials admitted that the November audit had rated the bridge at “4”, meaning it was not found to be in a distressed condition. It is a rating for bridges considered to be in “average-to-good condition”. “There are other foot overbridges and road overbridges that are in poorer shape than Gokhale Bridge. In discussions conducted, only routine maintenance was suggested for this particular bridge, which could have been carried out after a certain period of time. That is why it was rated 4 in a rating of 0-5, with 0 being marked for bridges in ‘distressed condition’”, said senior railway official.
After November 2017, the bridge was again inspected in April 2018, by an assistant engineer. While corrosion had been noted, no major discrepancy was noticed during the audit. “While Gokhale Bridge was inspected in November last year by the then divisional engineer, bridges, it was inspected in April 2018 as well, by an assistant engineer who assumes the role of a supervisor. As an inspection conducted by an officer is valued, any work required to be done on the bridge will be based on the rating given by the officer,” a senior official said.
On the suburban section, the railways conducts inspection of bridges at night. Officials claimed that such inspections are conducted “visually” where the maximum level of corrosion is checked, followed by rivet-testing where screws are hammered and checked if they are fit tightly.
“After the Gokhale Bridge incident, there is a greater need to revise the rules for conducting inspection of bridges. While the procedure is laid down, it could be more thorough. We need to look at more modern ways of conducting bridge inspections,” a senior railway official said. Declaring a bridge “structurally weak” by only observing corrosion might not be an appropriate technique, he added.
On Tuesday, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal ordered the IIT, Mumbai, to conduct an audit of bridges in co-ordination with the Railways and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and submit a report within six months. But the Western Railway (WR) will inspect each of the bridges, for structural strength, in the next three months. “We found 63 cable wires running along Gokhale Bridge, of which, 75 per cent had not received No-Objection Certificate from the Railways. We will now locate such bridges where cable wires are placed without informing the Railways. Strict action will be taken,” a senior WR official said.
The Commissioner of Railway Safety, Western Circle, Sushil Chandra, who inspected the accident site on Wednesday, is expected to submit a preliminary report within a month. “We are still collecting information on the bridge. Our investigation will look into the details of the audit conducted by the Railways on Gokhale Bridge,” Chandra said.
On Wednesday, train services on WR were disrupted after speed restrictions were imposed between Andheri and Vile Parle stations, as debris was being cleared from the site. “Some slow trains had to be cancelled due to the speed restriction. Operation would be smooth by Thursday,” an official said.