The authorities have blamed flash floods for weakening the rail bridge in Harda, Madhya Pradesh, where two trains derailed on Tuesday night. Closer home, in Mumbai, railway officials are viewing the incident as a warning for rail bridges here that are at similar risk, especially due to rampant sand mining.

The Central and Western Railways are a worried lot, and officials have complained to the state government about sand mafia carrying out illegal dredging activity at Vaitarna river and Ulhas creek, compromising the structural integrity of the rail bridges there.

“Rail bridges are like an elephant whose legs need to be protected,” said one official, explaining that the main concern was that sand was being mined right under the rail bridges, where heaps of sand can be found in the riverbed and near the banks.

On the central line, especially, the Diva-Mumbra stretch is thick with sand mining activity in the Ulhas creek. mid-day had pointed out in an earlier story that this had not only depleted mangrove cover in the area, but had also made the area flood-prone due to erosion (‘Sand miners eat away at 300 acres of mangroves’, June 5).

Since the past few days, the creek’s banks are being strengthened using bags of stones to keep loose soil packed in. CR sources said that during heavy rains, the water gets quite close to the embankment. Officials said they have bigger plans to ensure water doesn’t come onto the tracks or cause crevices in the rail due to floods.

“We are planning retention walls along the tracks to prevent water from coming on the tracks,” said Narendra Patil, Chief PRO, CR. The state government, too, seems to be taking note of the dangers of an accident similar to the one in Madhya Pradesh, and several meetings have taken place between the railway authorities and the state.

“We have asked the collectors to look into this issue,” said Chief Secretary Swadheen Kshatriya. Although sand mining is not particularly rampant at the river, it is still a concern for officials. “It is a major problem at Vaitarna River. We have been frequently informing the state government to keep a tab on sand mining there,” said Shailendra Kumar, Divisional Railway Manager (Mumbai), WR.

With areas towards Gujarat hit by heavy rainfall coupled with floods, WR authorities are cancelling and diverting several long-distance trains. On the stretch over Vaitarna River as well, trains are now chugging at reduced speeds of 40 kmph or so, with officials concerned about the bridge’s advanced age.