AT 10 AM on a Wednesday, the Taloja Panchnand railway station on the Central Railway (CR) is nothing like a suburban railway station bursting with commuters heading to work. Accounting for hardly 563 originating passengers on a daily basis, people in the newly developed township commute through passenger trains to travel to the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR). And the only way for passengers to reach the other side of the station is by crossing the railway tack — as there is no foot overbridge (FOB) here.
After 23 people lost their lives in a stampede on an FOB connecting Parel and Elphinstone Road railway stations in Mumbai on September 29, Union Railway Minister Piyush Goyal had announced that FOBs would now be included as one of the necessary safety features at railway stations and not just as an amenity. However, the construction of a new FOB at Taloja Panchnand has not started since 2012.
“The High Court in 2005 directed that each suburban railway station must be equipped with two foot overbridges — stations accounting for larger footfall must have at least three. The direction helped passengers who would crowd at one foot overbridge, congested with hawkers, leaving little space for commuters,” said Bhavesh Patel, railway activist, who had filed a PIL in this regard.
Taloja station, built in the early eighties, lies on the Vasai Road-Diva-Panvel route of the suburban railway network of the Central line. Some of the oldest residents in the area recall that an FOB at the railway station was in use till 2012 and only by commuters. “The bridge was then declared unsafe for commuters. Few issues with the alignment of the bridge were discovered. It was meant to be shut for a temporary period,” said a senior railway official.
The station is a halt for six-seven regular passenger trains used by daily commuters. Essentially serving as a private yard for storage of cement and wheat produce, goods trains move regularly here. Three railway lines divide the two home platforms on either side of the station. Commuters complain that switching between the tracks becomes an issue, especially when a train halts at one of the platforms.
“Sometimes, a goods train or a passenger train could halt for more time at the station. At such times, going under the pipe that joins two train coaches to cross over the track is a common sight here. This has caused injuries to many passengers. Instances of many sustaining injuries after falling on the tracks while crossing are common,” said Rajen Pitale, a Taloja resident.
Accounting for a monthly earning of Rs 35 lakh, Taloja is classified under the ‘E’ category of railway stations — where the priority of procurement of passenger amenities for the station remains low. Officials said that a plan to build a skywalk that connects National Highway 4 near the station to Phase II, a residential colony, is being processed. The skywalk will be built over the station, connecting the two platforms.
Railway officials at the station recall being abused and questioned repeatedly about the absence of FOBs at the station for so many years. The station is regularly visited by school and college students, employees and visitors to the Tata Memorial Advanced Centre for Cancer and outstation passengers, since all Konkan-bound trains halt here.
Abdul Yakil (13,) who strides through the 1 kilometre platform of the station only to cross the tracks upon reaching its end, said, “I stay in Kothari village, which is nearby.
I study in Elite Public school, which is in phase II on the other side of the station. The only other way to reach my school is take a complete circular round of the station by road that takes 30 minutes. It is better to walk on the platform, cross the tracks and take the shorter route,” he said.
In 2017, the station witnessed four cases of death and one injury to passengers found trespassing near the station.The presence of a level crossing gate at a distance of two kilometres from the station encourages people to walk on the tracks.
Passengers lifting their elderly relatives or mothers mounting their toddlers on their backs to climb on to the platform after crossing the tracks is a common sight. “Crossing by checking out either sides to confirm the arrival of a train” or “absence of a foot overbridge makes us do this” are the common excuses. “In a station like Dadar or Wadala, a Government Railway Police (GRP) will grab you by the collar and fine you if you are found trespassing on the tracks. Why is such a strict action not being taken here? Does the government wait for someone to die before a bridge would be constructed?” asked Bharat Poddar, a resident of Taloja for the last 10 years.
“For the two years I have been a station master, I have received multiple complaints from commuters about the absence of a bridge at the station. Many complaints have also been physical in nature. Multiple letters to the division have been sent from my side asking for a bridge. I hope that the bridge gets built at the earliest for the convenience of commuters,” said S M Nair, station master, Taloja station. Officials added that plans to repair the existing bridge and make it roadworthy are also in process.