Download Each day approximately 10 people die on Mumbai’s suburban train system.
Some get hit while crossing the tracks, while others die from falling off or being electrocuted by overhead wires.
Despite the alarming figures, the Indian government has done little to prevent this loss of life.
Lauren Farrow reports on what makes Mumbai’s trains so deadly.
It’s survival of the fittest here on the train and there’s simply not enough room for everybody.
“When the head of the family goes for a job in the morning they are not sure whether he will come back safe in the evening. But people have no choice. A commuter from Borivali can’t go to Churchgate by bus every day so he has no choice but to travel by the train.”
Dipak Gandhi is from Mumbai’s Suburban Railway Passengers’ Association.
“There has been a stupendous growth in population of Bombay and unfortunately the railways have not kept pace with that increased demand and as a result travelling conditions have become very very hazardous.”
In October 2006, 21-year-old Manish Kataria learnt just how dangerous Mumbai’s trains can be.
Manish, who is blind, was waiting for a train when he was pushed off the platform onto the tracks. Seconds later the train arrived, crushing his left arm.
“Between the time of falling and being put on the train to a hospital in kalyan I have no conscious memories at all. They put my arm between my legs and took me to the hospital to dress it.”
For the next 12 hours Manish drifted in and out of consciousness.
“I didn’t realise my arm was gone, I was in so much pain. When a part of your body is wrenched so quickly the sensations don’t go. You don’t know it’s missing. Then someone said to me, ‘Your arm has been dislocated from your body’. It made sense to me but I thought, what is the point of crying.”
Manish had lost his hand, and his bones had been crushed more than two inches from his wrist. He says, the reality of having lost his arm was at first too upsetting to comprehend.
“If I thought about those things about how I was going to get through life with one arm I wouldn’t have made it – I had to just suppress them at least for the first week. All I would think about is at least I still have my life.”
Manish’s story is among thousands that occur each year in Mumbai. According to figures released by Mumbai’s Railway Police, more than 2,000 people died between January and August 2006, while another 2,000 were seriously injured.
Dipak Gandhi believes deaths and injuries would be reduced if Western Railways introduced cyclic timetables that organised trains so they only service particular stations.
“In one suburban service they are packing commuters of 10 to 20 stations. Now each station has got so much population that in three to six stations the train is jam packed, thereafter there is no scope even for hanging so there is no sense in serving those stations.”
However, the Divisional Railway Manager of the Western line, Girish Pillai says a cyclic timetable is not the answer.
“People in Bombay are used to a large number of terminals where they pick up their trains particularly in the peak time. We cannot discontinue or change the timings of those trains without seriously affecting the passengers.”
He says the biggest problem is that Mumbai is overcrowded, and that is something they cannot fix overnight or by changing timetables.
“We actually have a term here called super dense crush load. On a 12 car rick we have over 5,000 passengers travelling during the peak time. You could say it is extremely overcrowded.”
In 2011, Pillai will be focussing on laying new tracks, buying extra trains and building boundary walls to stop trespassers.
But BS Rath, the Divisional President of All India Railway Employees Confederation, says more needs to be done to improve safety on the trains.
“Sometimes we have to work standing, the wipers are not working properly. In the rainy season it becomes very difficult. Night time working we work totally blind because at times headlights are also not proper.”
Rath drove Mumbai’s train for the twenty five years.
“I must have cut 100 people in my life in thirty years of time. We are helpless in that case. Suppose suddenly person comes on our track – I will apply emergency brakes but still. . . Many times we do save. When I kill one person I know that I have saved 100 people.”
The majority of deaths on Mumbai’s trains are due to people walking on the tracks.
To prevent this, Rath argues the Government should be focussing on building boundary and platform fences and demolishing illegal housing along the tracks.
“These people they walk on the tracks as if they were walking on a garden. They are less bothered about when the train is coming. We whistle, we apply brakes to save them and out of 100 chances, one person is killed.”
Manish is now working at a call centre and catches trains regularly to meet his girlfriend of two years.
Like most Mumbaiites, he says the dangers of train travel are simply an unfortunate part of living in India’s busiest city.
“It doesn’t make any sense either to be angry at somebody or to blame anybody – what’s the benefit of it?”
This month Manish finally received more than 6,000 US dollars in compensation.
1) suburban train system : sistem kereta api pinggiran kota
2) overhead wires : kabel listrik tegangan tinggi
3) hazardous : berbahaya
4) wrenched : terenggut
5) cyclic timetable : jadwal kereta api berulang yang terorganisir
6) overcrowded : menyesakkan, terlalu penuh
7) peak time : jam sibuk
8) stupendous : mengejutkan/gemilang
9) supress : menekan
10) comprehend : memahami
1) How many people die each day on the Mumbai suburban train system and why?
2) What will the government do to overcome this problem?
3) What is a major cause of deaths on rail tracks?
4) When are the trains mostly jam-packed?
5) Where do these accidents happen?