Railway minister Piyush Goyal directed officials “to spend whatever is necessary” for passenger safety as he announced on Saturday steps to prevent disasters such as a stampede at a busy Mumbai suburban train station that killed 23 people.
Goyal chaired marathon meetings with railway officials the past two days as the stampede revived safety questions engulfing one of the world’s biggest public transportation networks reeling from a series of fatal crashes, poor infrastructure and funds, and red tape.
“To eliminate bureaucracy and delays, I have empowered GMs (general managers) to spend whatever is necessary on safety,” he tweeted.
The tragedy happened on Friday morning on an overcrowded stairwell to a pedestrian bridge that connects Elphinstone Road with Parel as at least four trains pulled in simultaneously at both stations and commuters dashed for shelter from sudden rain.
Officials said 22 people were crushed and suffocated to death when fellow commuters fell on them in the narrow foot overbridge (FOB). More than three dozen were injured and one of them died in hospital on Saturday.
The 35-year-old man, Satyendra Kumar Kanojia, was one of the two critical patients and died because of heavy neurological damage, doctors at KEM Hospital said.
The government will bring foot overbridges and platforms within a mandatory safety plan with no budget restrictions. Such bridges are until now considered a passenger amenity, thereby given less priority despite being used by millions of commuters.
“We are turning a 150 year old convention on its head, hereafter, FOBs (foot overbridges) will be deemed mandatory not a passenger amenity,” Goyal said in a tweet.
According to a British-era edict, used even today, one foot overbridge is counted as “essential” and subsequent ones as “passenger amenity”.
The minister gave financial and administrative power to field units for reducing bureaucratic hurdles and pushing development and delivery.
Most pedestrian bridges on the suburban network with around 135 stations in India’s financial hub are old and in urgent need of repairs. An overhaul of the Elphinstone Road bridge built in the 1970s was long overdue.
The railways will install closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras in Mumbai’s suburban trains within a fortnight. And 40 railway yards, including eight in Mumbai, will be remodeled at an expense of Rs 1,000 crore.
Goyal tweeted 200 officials from the Railway Board and headquarters will be sent to strengthen field operations and project implementation.
Priority will be accorded to stations with higher footfall and revenue.
“Additional escalators sanctioned at crowded Mumbai suburban stations and thereafter for all high traffic stations,” the minister said.
Some 7.5 million passengers commute every day in nearly 2,500 suburban trains, the lifeline for Mumbai’s 20 million people.
Millions of people come to Elphinstone, recently renamed Prabhadevi, and Parel stations close to Lower Parel, a business district that has grown rapidly since it was dotted with a spattering of textile mills decades ago.
The stampede is the latest disaster to hit the railways after 23 people were killed when a train derailed in Uttar Pradesh in August. Nearly 150 died last November in a crash. Read more
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