Passenger safety in Metro Rail

The Metro Railway has become a major mode of passenger traffic in Kolkata. A number of new schemes are under execution which will widen the underground railway network in the next couple of years or so. In other words, more and more passengers who now travel by bus will switch over to the Metro as it is a much faster mode of transport. Ensuring safety for this rising number of passengers thus becomes a matter of top priority. Recently, several ‘accidents’ of fire and smoke engulfing Metro rakes have taken place. Each time the authorities trotted out the same excuse – this is happening because the rakes have become old and as soon as new rakes arrive there will be no such problem. This excuse is just not acceptable. When passenger bogies become full of smoke, the sardine-packed passengers can only scream and wail. They cannot escape because the doors will not open. And even if they open it will be extremely risky to jump out because any physical contact with the third rail will mean instant death.
The Metro rail authorities know the average life of a rake at the time of its manufacture after which it has to be replaced. Therefore new rakes should be readily available by the time the old rakes have to be phased out. Not doing so is inexcusable. When an underground train runs into the tunnel, the passengers become virtual prisoners. In a recent ‘accident’ a bogie became filled with smoke, making many passengers ill. They had to be in that condition for half an hour before they could be evacuated. In any Western country this would have raised strong public protest and the demand for action against those responsible for such a situation. But we have become so accustomed to our chalta hai habit that the stock excuse of “old rake” by the PR Department of the Metro Rail was enough to assuage the feeling of outrage of the suffering passengers. As the underground railway network spreads in and around Kolkata, many more lakhs of people will travel by it. It is incumbent on the Metro rail authorities to give topmost priority to ensure passenger safety. There can be no compromise in this and no suave ‘explanations’ after any such accident. The Metro travel has to be made risk-free.

Sunday, 3 February, 2019