Mumbai commuters still court death on railway tracks

Mumbaikars are always hurrying to their destinations, and among these, there are those who will not take a railway bridge, preferring instead to leap across the tracks.

On both the Central Railway (CR) and Western Railway (WR), trespassing accounted for 721 deaths until June this year. In other accidents, 311 people died either due to falling off trains and or being hit by poles. At least which 57% of the deaths took place during the non-peak hours.

“During the off-peak period, trains are not overcrowded, and the chances of a person falling off a train or being hit by a pole are far less. The data seems to suggest that most of the off-peak deaths would be due to trespassing,” said Ravinder Bhakar, chief public relations officer, WR.

Mumbai commuters still court death on railway tracks

Over the past decade, trespassing accounted for 19,781 deaths across the suburban system but has been steadily declining over the years, except in 2014, when there was an increase on both CR and WR — 1,216 people lost their lives on the CR tracks and 696 on the WR, as compared to 1,174 and 696 the previous year. In 2018, there was a slight increase in deaths on the tracks of WR — 591 as compared to 573 in 2017.

The railways are doing their bit to try and curb the number of deaths due to trespassing. “Our major achievement this year is sealing the Jogeshwari level-crossing gate. It was a spot that had gained notoriety for having one of the highest cases of track deaths in the city,” Mr. Bhakar said. The gate, which accounted for nearly 30 deaths every year, has had no deaths since February.

Similarly, Dadar station has recorded zero track deaths after CR undertook a series of measures at the station. “We have conducted a series of campaigns to make people aware of the dangers of trespassing. This includes a video series with an appeal from eminent personalities like Amitabh Bachchan. A lot of effort has gone into infrastructure upgrade, sealing of most trespassing locations as also innovative steps like applying grease on polls at Dadar,” said Sunil Udasi, chief public relations officer, CR.

Mumbai commuters still court death on railway tracks

Mr. Bhakar said WR had also shifted several poles that were deemed dangerous and those that could not be shifted were painted in bright colours. “We have around 9 km of boundary walls that remain to be constructed, which we aim to complete by the end of this financial year,” he said. The CR has around 28 km of walls under construction.

Senior railway officials said a major problem they faced was that boundary walls were routinely broken by locals. “In the past year, boundary walls at 15 locations had been broken and required repairs. After a point, people need to realise that walking on the tracks will lead to their death,” a railway official said. Both CR and WR have been routinely conducting awareness drives to make people aware of the dangers of trespassing but their impact is debatable.

“Awareness programmes and seminars do have an impact but they need to be conducted regularly. The problem is always the first person who crosses the tracks, the others follow thinking they will also be safe. Hence, it is important to bring trespassing down to zero,” Kamlesh Shah, railway activist and former member of the Zonal Railway Users Consultative Committee, said. He said all foot overbridges (FOBs) at stations should be designed in such a way that they are connected to all platforms and have exits to the west and east to ensure better circulation within the station.

Mumbai commuters still court death on railway tracks

The Mumbai Rail Vikas Corporation is also adding its contribution to the cause. Under a project called Mid-Section Trespass Control, the construction of 26 FOBs, two subways, seven linkways and other works are being executed to resolve the issue of trespassing at nearly 38 locations across the suburban network. However, work on this project, started in October 2018 at an expected cost of ₹551 crore, has been progressing at snail’s pace with not a single FOB being commissioned yet.

The morning peak period on the railways starts at 7 a.m. and ends at 11 a.m. while the evening peak hours are from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. During both peak periods, each local train typically carries 5,000 people. Railway officials said falling off trains or hitting poles are usually due to overcrowding of trains, which carry over 80 lakh Mumbaikars daily. Hearteningly, overall accidental deaths on the CR and WR reduced by 10.77% between January 2019 and June 2019.

There is still the one niggle, though — commuters choosing short-cuts to their life, in a literal and larger sense. “Resolving the issue of overcrowding will take time as it is linked to a much larger issue of housing and lack of infrastructure in the city. However, trespass deaths can be curbed much more easily,” said a senior railway official.

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Printable version | Apr 28, 2021 9:03:39 AM |

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