Mumbai local train crash: Motorman says he stared death in the face

That’s how motorman L Tiwari described, to Western Railway officials, the moment when he realised that the train he was piloting was going to crash into platform no 3 of Churchgate station; luckily, he survived without major injuries

“Meri aankhon ke saamne maut dekha,” a shaken L Tiwari told Western Railway officials yesterday, describing the moments when he realised that the train he was piloting was running out of track, hurtling, at high speed, towards platform no 3 of Churchgate station.

Also read: Mumbai train crashes into platform at Churchgate station

More than half of the ladies’ coach of the local literally flew off the tracks
More than half of the ladies’ coach of the local literally flew off the tracks. Pic/Bipin Kokate

In the harrowing seconds that followed, more than half of the ladies’ coach of the flying local as the galloping train was dubbed by people inside it even before the crash literally flew off the tracks and came to rest on the platform, giving commuters the shock of their lives. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured.

Motorman L Tiwari and two others have been suspended
Motorman L Tiwari and two others have been suspended

Buffer
The accident happened around 11.20 am yesterday, when the Bhayander-Churchgate fast local entered the station premises at a speed of nearly 30 kmph, according to sources, who added that by the time the motorman, L Tiwari, began applying the brakes, it was too late.

Officials said the buffers at Churchgate station were replaced a year or so ago and the damage could have been much worse had the old ones still been in place. Pic/Shadab Khan
Officials said the buffers at Churchgate station were replaced a year or so ago and the damage could have been much worse had the old ones still been in place. Pic/Shadab Khan

The train overshot the tracks and rammed into the buffer a spring-like system designed to prevent injuries and keep trains from going beyond the end of a section of track. “The train had stopped several times between the Marine Lines and Churchgate stations.


Pic/Bipin Kokate

However, when it began moving towards Churchgate the last time, it was at quite a high speed,” said a Western Railway official, on condition of anonymity. In fact, when mid-day spoke to commuters, they claimed that this train was ‘flying’, especially on the Borivli-Andheri stretch, where trains usually run slowly on Sundays, when a mega block is in effect.

Sources said trains are allowed to enter Churchgate station at 30 kmph, but the speed needs to be controlled by the motorman. In this case, prima facie, Tiwari couldn’t apply brakes on time. “Only a year ago or so, we had replaced the old hydraulic buffers in Churchgate station with new ones.

This proved useful today (Sunday) as even though the buffer broke, it absorbed much of the force of the collision,” said a WR official. The official claimed that had the old buffers which had rusted by the time they had been replaced still been in place, the damage, both to the train and in terms of injuries to those inside it, could have been much worse “The train would have simply broken the buffer, causing more damage to the rake, the station and commuters,” he said.

‘Brakes weren’t working’
Tiwari told railway authorities that the brakes did not function properly when the train was entering the station. “I tried to apply the brakes, but the train barely slowed down. Meri aankhon ke saamne maut dekha,” Tiwari told WR officials. More than 5 metres of the train went up in the air and climbed atop the platform because of the impact.

There are two types of brakes in pure AC rakes (which run purely on 25000-volt alternating current) like the one involved in the accident. One of the brakes is electro-pneumatic, which is usually used by motormen because it slows down the train smoothly. Tiwari claimed that this brake didn’t work.

The other brake is mechanical and passengers experience jerks when it is applied. Tiwari told officials that by the time he applied the mechanical brake, it was already too late. WR officials, however, said that the train had been halting just fine all the way from Bhayander.

In fact, the train slowed down due to a signal even after it crossed the Marine Lines station, before taking off for Churchgate. Moreover, they said, there was a mega block between Mumbai Central and Dadar on the fast line and the train had to halt several times on that stretch.

Suspended
“On the basis of preliminary inquiry, we have suspended the motorman, guard and loco inspector. It seems that there has been human error in this case,” said SK Sood, General Manager, Western Railway.

Officials said the train’s guard, A Gohil, could have also applied the brakes when he realised that the train’s speed was higher than it should have been while entering the station and that he was suspended for his failure to do so.

Loco Inspector M Verma was also suspended. Officials said each loco inspector is in charge of a batch of 25-30 motormen and guards and it is his job to ensure they work properly.

Still hanging
Till the time of going to press, part of the coach was still in the air. Officials said that they were cutting off the transformers which are adjacent to the wheels and are used to power the train from the coach as they had dug into the platform and got mangled. They said the coach can be put back on the tracks only after the transformers are removed and that moving the coach and repairing it would take the entire night.

Speed helped train
Officials said the speed of the train actually ended up helping it, in a manner of speaking. Had the speed been less, there were chances of the buffer springing the train back, which could have resulted in its derailment. Thanks to the speed at which the train was yesterday, however, only a part of the first ladies coach went up in the air and the coach behind it did not derail.

Minister was busy signing MoUs
Union Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis were signing MoUs at Sahyadri when the accident one of the worst on Western Railway in recent memory — occurred. While railway officials rushed to Churchgate station, Prabhu reportedly did not visit the spot throughout the day.

The distance between Sahyadri, which is in Malabar Hill, and Churchgate station is about 6.2 km and takes approximately 20 minutes to cover. After the MoUs were signed, the inclusion of an elevated rail and road corridor in the Rs 11,400 crore MUTP-3 was announced. Integrated transportation was also proposed during the meeting.

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