Late on Saturday afternoon, rescuers ferried to safety 1,050 passengers stranded overnight on a train marooned on an inundated railway track near Badlapur in Shahapur district, nearly 49 km from Thane.
The train, Kolhapur-bound Mahalaxmi Express, had left Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus some 18 hours earlier on Friday evening.
The dramatic rescue operations that began Saturday morning saw the Indian Navy, National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), Central Railway (CR), Thane Disaster Management Cell, Kalyan-Dombivali Disaster Management Cell, Badlapur police, and the Mumbai Fire Brigade working together.
Rescue boats and two helicopters were deployed to get passengers out of the 22 coaches of the train that was surrounded by at least 3 feet of water.
The train was stuck 3 km from the nearest station, Badlapur, after Shahapur district recorded 195 mm of rain in 24 hours ending 8.30 am Saturday.
At 4.06 am, the train came a halt near Chamtoli village. The tracks ahead had disappeared under water. The train was caught in what resembled a water body.
At about 4.15 am, the Central Railway Control Room received the first distress call. During the time the train still had power, four Train Ticket Examiners (TTEs) on board used a microphone available with a passenger, a police officer, to inform passengers in all 22 coaches about the situation, and to ensure there was no panic.
“The train had proceeded on its way as water had begun receding, but after a sudden spell of intense rainfall, coupled with the overflowing of the Ulhas river, the train was completely stuck in deep water near the Chamtoli village,” Sunil Udasi, Chief Public Officer, Central Railway, said.
The Central Railway’s escort party in the train spoke to passengers, and teams of the local city police and the six RPF officers on board distributed food and biscuits. They also urged passengers to not attempt to get off the train.
The Disaster Control authorities of the Maharashtra government took a decision to airlift the stranded passengers. By about 11 am, one coach had been evacuated by the Thane Disaster Management Cell.
What ensued thereafter was a massive rescue operation with the Indian Navy’s Western Naval Command mobilising eight of its rescue teams including three diving teams, rescue material, inflatable boats, and life jackets. A Sea King 42C helicopter was rushed to the site. An Air Force Mi17 helicopter too, aided the rescue operations.
Two columns of the Indian Army, with 130 trained staff, food packages, water and rescue material, were despatched, along with two columns of the Army’s Air Defence unit in Kalina.
While rescue operations were under way, rescue workers were alerted about a pregnant woman on board who was going into labour. The woman was rescued by NDRF in inflatable boats and taken to a nearby hospital.
Earlier in the day, Central Railway authorities tried to tow the train out of the water-logged spot with a diesel engine but were unsuccessful. According to Udasi, the train will be removed once the water level on the tracks reduces.