Operations on the Western Railway network touched a new nadir on Saturday night, when two local trains collided head-on near the Andheri railway station. The collision, which occurred at 11.10 pm, injured six commuters and disrupted train services for the rest of the night.
A Virar-bound local ran into a train headed towards Churchgate. Prima facie, the disaster appears to have been caused by lacunae in the WR’s communication system, and lays bare grievous loopholes in the various systems in place on the suburban railway networks. Sources in the Western Railway (WR) who inspected the spot later attributed the accident to unspecified ‘confusion’ or ‘miscommunication’.
Railway officials, trying to piece together a possible sequence of events that led to the accident, traced it back to a glitch that cropped up in the braking system of the Virar bound fast train. As a result, the train had to wait for a while at platform 4 of the station. Once the problem was rectified, it rolled out of the platform.
The first coach of the fast local had hardly crossed the signal pole near the station’s public footover bridge, when a commuter pulled the chain from one of the compartments, forcing the train to come to a grinding halt.
At this time, the Churchgate bound fast local was in the process of crossing over from the slow line to the fast line on which the Virar train had halted. Oblivious of the approaching train, the Virar-fast train resumed its movement, only to have the Churchgate train collide into it, head to head.
“It seems that the WR personnel manning the control room assumed that the Virar-bound fast train would take some time to roll out after the chain-pulling incident — and so they gave the Churchgate train the signal to enter the same line,” explained a senior WR official.
The personnel in the control room — who have the suburban line mapped on a digital network board at their fingertips — failed to gauge that the Virar-bound fast local would obstruct the path of the Churchgate-bound train.
The impact of the collision threw some coaches off track, injuring commuters. “There is a lacunae in the system, and this incident has proved it. We will have to study this matter thoroughly so as to prevent it from recurring in the future,” said another WR official.
Some of the officials claimed that motormen should have predicted the impending disaster and avoided it. “The motormen should have manoeuvred cautiously, especially when they saw the trains on the same track,” said a WR official.
The motormen, however, begged to differ. “The signal was given to the motormen, and they merely followed it. Moreover, at nighttime, especially during the rains, it is very difficult to judge the exact alignment of the tracks,” said a WR motorman.
The motormen claimed that a similar mishap had occurred in 2006, when two trains met on the same track, near Virar station — they alleged that the railway administration downplayed the incident back then. Again in 2010, a train was derailed while it was changing lines near Andheri station.
The mishap, which seems to have stemmed from a combination of human error and system failure, has proved the ineffectuality of the accident prevention systems put in place by the suburban railway authorities. Services on the two lines were restored at about 12.30 am, and the coaches were re-railed by 2.30 am. The train services on all four lines were restored six hours after the mishap, at 5.30 am. 42 train services were cancelled after the accident, and several trains ran late yesterday. The Chairman of Railway Board (CRB) Vinay Mittal, General Manager Mahesh Kumar (WR) and other senior officials reached the spot around 12.30 am yesterday — while the CRB evaluated the impact of the accident for an hour, Kumar was present at the site till the services were resumed at 5.30 am. “The Commissioner of Railway Safety will conduct an inquiry into the incident,” said Sharat Chandrayan, chief PRO, WR. Surprisingly, the WR public relations department was utterly oblivious of the incident, for over 30 minutes after it occurred.