When death came hurtling towards me
Their CST-bound local stranded, commuters began jumping off, walking on tracks; Fiona Fernandez recounts how she survived while another woman wasn't as lucky
Typically, the day in the life of a journalist is peppered with a bit of drama. However, there is the odd occasion when that journalist becomes part of the action that finds its way into the pages of the publication that he or she represents. Yesterday, this truth unveiled its ugly self as I headed to work on a CST-bound local train on the Central Railway network.
Death on the tracks: With no option but to trek towards the platform,
passengers began to dismount the stranded CST-bound local, even as
trains whizzed past them on the tracks. A 50-year-old was run over by
the Nagarcoil-bound long distance train. She succumbed to her injuries.
It was nearing 12.25 pm. The Dussehra crowd had occupied most of the women's compartment. Everything seemed regular, even after our slow train on track two halted about 100 metres before Vikhroli station, for 20 minutes. Soon, the crowds began to get impatient. The men from the adjoining compartments alighted and began their trek on tracks 1, 3 and 4, in the direction of the railway station's platforms. Anxious looking people from the platforms shouted across the tracks that separated us, warning us that the overhead wires to our train had snapped.
Exchanges over the phone between concerned family members and friends on the same train or elsewhere could be heard, and soon began the exodus from our compartment. Most didn't need much egging on as they began to get off the foot board, which seemed like a steep challenge, even for able-bodied folk. Refusing to be deterred by it, septuagenarian women, housewives, their toddlers and train regulars began to take the plunge.
Many needed a hand from those who were the railway tracks. I was unable to muster the courage to follow suit. Besides, such kind of daredevilry amounts to trespassing. Another 15 minutes had passed. The women's compartment had emptied itself out. Gulp.
Harrowed tales of attacks on lone women commuters on trains by hooligans crept into my mind from nowhere. Too afraid to stay back, and encouraged by the fact that the platform was barely 100 metres away, I took the plunge. After a mini-struggle, I was able to find a foothold on the inconvenient ladder attached below the compartment door. I looked around: trains were crawling on the remaining three tracks. Each time a train approached, warnings from the rest would alert those on that specific track. The sight had all the trappings of an accident waiting to happen: yet, there was no patrolling, and neither were there any audible announcements to help stranded commuters (as one approached closer to platform no 3).
I made my way rather gingerly towards the station. Once again, I heard screams from every direction. A local train was on track no 4 and people from the other tracks and platforms alerted the rest. I recovered from this sight only to spot a Nagercoil-bound long distance train stare me in the face, barely 50 metres away. In a flash, a woman shoved me to the side, against the picket fencing and shrubbery that lined track no 3. I tugged along a few others beside me to safety. The train whizzed past from behind. It was my blackout moment.
Shrieks and cries filled the afternoon air. A 50-something woman wasn't lucky. She had probably miscalculated the space between the train and a safe spot beside the track. Crowds swarmed around her motionless body.
Several more minutes had passed, yet there was no sight of any patrol or medical help, not even a stretcher.
Chaos had swept over. Later in the day, I learnt that the woman had succumbed to her injuries.
Several questions crossed my mind as I boarded another train a while later: Couldn't a line of communication between the railway station and the driver of the long-distance train have saved the innocent woman's life? Would slowing down the train at the sight of crowds on the tracks and incessant horning as it approached the station have helped? This episode occurred in broad daylight near a railway station; yet why were emergency services and those responsible for ensuring safety along our railway tracks nowhere in sight? Can authorities provide emergency help for stranded commuters, particularly the invalid, pregnant women, aged, sick in such unforeseen circumstances?
How many more lives must be lost before one, if not all of these questions wait for telling answers?