Even as the total number of lives lost following Mumbai’s local train-related accidents showed a decline, the number of deaths by falling off suburban trains increased by 61 in 2018 as compared to the previous year. A report prepared by the Commissioner of Police, Railways, Mumbai, indicates that measures taken to ensure commuter safety on overcrowded suburban trains continue to be inadequate as 711 people died after falling from local trains between January 2018 and December 2018, a 16 per cent rise from 654 in 2017.
The report also states that the number of deaths on railway tracks reduced by 33 in 2018. While 3,014 people died on railway tracks in 2017, the number fell to 2,981 in 2018.
According to the report of the Commissioner of Police, Railways, Mumbai, of the 711 lives lost after falling from running local trains, 482 deaths took place on the Central Railway, while 229 were reported on Western Railway.
Increasing capacity in local trains needed
There may have been a decline in the total number of deaths on Mumbai’s local trains, but the loss of 2,981 lives in 2018 is a statistic no less alarming. Capacity augmentation of Mumbai’s local trains may have been in the works with addition of more rakes, but it needs to accelerate rapidly. Railway sources say until December 2018 the height of over 130 platforms was raised to prevent accidents caused by slipping into the gaps, pursuant to Bombay High Court directions. “Concentration camps are better than people in crowded trains”, the Bombay HC had remarked in 2016. The railways had then said in a report that most victims of railway accidents were aged between 21 and 40. Overcrowding on trains ranges from 100 per cent to 130 per cent. Peak hour density for standing passengers averages 12 people on every square metre of space.
The data recorded over the last three years shows that the number of deaths after falling off local trains decreased from 806 in 2015 to 657 in 2016 and marginally dipped to 654 in 2017. After a decrease in these numbers for two consecutive years, the figure, however, rose to 711 in 2018. Out of 2,981 deaths recorded in 2018 by Commissioner of Police, Railways, Mumbai, more than 619 or 55 per cent took place while crossing railway tracks, 35 were suicides on the tracks and 18 passengers died because of collision with poles along the tracks. Railway activist Samir Zaveri, who lost both his legs in a railway accident, said the authorities need to act quickly on de-congesting local trains.
“Railway minister Piyush Goyal directed the authorities to run 15-coach local trains (instead of 12 coach) but the work of station expansion is not proceeding as fast as it should. Railways should speed it up so that overcrowding on local trains will reduce,” said Zaveri. Besides increasing the frequncy of local trains, Zaveri said many commuters travel on the footboard during peak hours as they are unable to get inside the compartments. This, he says, is the reason behind increase in deaths by falling off trains.
“After the stampede at Elphinstone Road (Prabhadevi) station in 2017, the railways have started crowd management on their bridges. They should similarly start crowd management inside the trains that may be a small sigh of relief for regular commuters,” Zaveri suggested.
Sunil Udasi, Chief public relations officer, Central Railway, said: “We are working on running more 15-coach trains with an aim to reduce overcrowding. Overcrowding in trains will reduce automatically when most trains will have 15 coaches.”