Friday's accident, in which four persons were injured at the Nungambakkam Railway Station, exposed gross inadequacies in the maintenance of public utility facilities.
The prevalent mood at the station was one of panic and fear.
Some passengers had initially helped the injured persons come up, and put them in ambulances.
Other passengers and regular users of the facility, who came later, were shocked to see the slabs that they stepped on every day, collapse in this manner. The landing looked as if a huge, rectangular piece had been cut out.
Right below was a muddy floor, with some grass and litter.
The four passengers, who were victims of neglect and poor maintenance, set out on their daily chores like anyone else.
M. Yuvaraj, one of the injured who was admitted to the GH, told The Hindu: “I came to Nungambakkam on some personal work. We were shell-shocked when this slab we stepped on suddenly crashed down. Had some iron rods or glass pieces been below, our condition would have been even worse.”
Accessing the spot they fell into was not easy for those who came to their aid. “Passers-by had to come around the station to reach the place beneath the foot overbridge. They carried us up,” he said.
The 36-year-old from Nagalapuram in Chittoor district stays with some of his colleagues in a rented house in Villivakkam. An employee at the clearance unit of a shipping company, he checks various items being imported, or those to be exported.
His monthly salary of Rs.5,000 supports his family that lives in his village.
Livelihood a concern
Pointing to his leg that was bandaged, Mr. Yuvaraj said: “The doctor says it's a fracture. It hurts a lot and I have been advised rest for a month. My main concern is how my wife, one-and-a-half-year-old-son and mother will manage if I do not go to work for a month.”
His friend Mohan, who was also injured in the accident, was admitted to Apollo Hospitals along with another injured person, he said.
S. Naseer, who was taken to the GH before being shifted to the Railway Hospital, Perambur, has multiple fractures in his right arm. “The fall was severe. I was brought to this hospital in an ambulance of the 108 service, with the help of other passengers and the RPF personnel,” he said at the GH.
Following the accident, RPF personnel closed entry to a portion of the FOB.
Several passengers heading to the staircase looked bewildered, seeing the police presence and made enquiries about why the stretch was blocked.
The Nungambakkam station is among the top three EMU stations, along with Chromepet and St. Thomas Mount, in terms of the number of persons who use the facilities on the Chennai Beach-Tambaram section every day.
Key transit point
Of the several hundred passengers who use the station every day, there are a good number of students going to institutions in the area.
For many working professionals, the station is a transit point, connecting them to bus services.
R. Daya, a college student who has been using the station for the last five years, said it was shocking to see that the slabs had collapsed. “This station is so crowded and it is crucial that all facilities are maintained well. We need better security as sometimes, you can even spot peddlers.”
Some of the metal sheets by the side of the corridors of the FOB were broken, posing a risk to passengers. “Passengers can often be seen crossing the tracks, avoiding using the FOB. Some monitoring and maintenance will certainly help,” Ms. Daya said.
V. Venkatesh, a conservancy worker of the Chennai Corporation, who has been working in the area for about eight years, said clearing garbage in the stretch was rather difficult.
“Passengers simply throw plastic carrybags and all kinds of things on the road,” he said.
On the accident, he said: “It is very unfortunate. We must realise that buildings and other structures tend to become weaker over the years, he said. “Like they say we need regular medical check ups after we reach 35-40 years, structures need regular inspection, repair and maintenance. Otherwise, this is what will happen,” he added.