Services on all lines disrupted for almost two hours following power grid failure

It has been four days since the Delhi Disaster Management Authority conducted a drill to assess the preparedness of the Delhi Metro to emergency situations such as bomb blasts and terrorist attacks. Yet, a “disaster” that was not factored in was the unexpected breakdown of power supply from the Northern Grid that crippled the metro network on Tuesday.

While the first breakdown occurred on Monday morning, services on all metro lines were disrupted for almost two hours on Tuesday afternoon leaving Delhi Metro no choice but to immediately evacuate all passengers from trains and stations including eight trains inside tunnels on Line-2.

Mahinder Singh, who was travelling to Patel Chowk, was one such person who was evacuated from inside a tunnel. “Metro personnel guided passengers from each compartment to the rear of the train to the emergency door and we walked on the tracks to reach the station,” he said.

Several passengers, however, expressed displeasure with the way the evacuation process was handled. “The metro staff appeared confused over what should be done in these situations,” said a commuter, who did not want to be named. Rows between metro staff and passengers were witnessed in various stations regarding refund of tickets.

Another commuter, Aditya Raj Das, a 53-year old resident of Mayur Vihar, said the announcements made inside the train were confusing. “First, they apologised for the inconvenience, then they asked those who felt suffocated to step out onto the station and after 15 minutes they asked all passengers to evacuate the station,” he said. “Announcements to board the next train were also simultaneously made adding to the confusion.”

With the grid failure, the system fell back on gas turbines for power supply and services were partially restored by 3 p.m. on all lines. By evening, the situation was restored to normalcy. Delhi Metro’s records show that in the event of a major breakdown or grid failure, all stations have been provided with a diesel generator set to handle essential loads like signalling, lifts, essential lighting and fire pumps.

However, immediately following the failure, stations such as Rajiv Chowk were plunged into complete darkness. “Only the lights inside the train were working. None of the lifts or escalators in the stations was operational. It was very inconvenient for senior citizens,” said Mr. Singh.

Delhi Metro’s Chief Public Relations Officer Anuj Dayal said the failure of the Northern Grid is a unique crisis faced by the metro. “The metro draws power from a huge network across the city and if that itself collapses we are faced with a unique situation,” he said. Asked about the gas turbines that function as back up, Mr. Dayal said:

“The Delhi Metro runs a 190 km long network. The gas turbines will only be able to supply to one or two places in that network.”

Mr. Das who intends to file a Public Interest Litigation against Delhi Metro said the public transport system has a moral responsibility and is legally bound to build an effective power back-up system. “At least for the underground sections of the network, there should be a heavy battery powered back up that can make sure the trains reach the nearest station,” he suggested. “All it takes is a mischief monger to trigger off a rumour that could easily lead to a stampede.”

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