Mumbai Rains: How a bunch of cables brought the city to its knees

Updated: Jul 04, 2018, 13:55 IST | Chetna Yerunkar and Ranjeet Jadhav

While the railways have squared the blame on the BMC for allegedly laying utility cables on the Andheri bridge, civic officials say that Rail Over Bridge might just be designed badly

Mumbai Rains: How a bunch of cables brought the city to its knees
BMC officials suggested that the railways' load-bearing design for the Gokhale overbridge might be to blame. Pic/Rane Ashish

Were utility cables to blame for the collapse of the Gokhale road overbridge (ROB) at Andheri railway station yesterday? As the pedestrian walkway along the ROB came crashing down, it revealed a thick bed of utility cables that had laid hidden on the bridge, under a heavy layer of paver blocks. The bridge was not designed to take this additional load, and this could be the cause of the crash.

At least, that is what Western Railway (WR) officials suggest. They blame BMC officials for allegedly allowing utility companies to lay the wires on the ROB surreptitiously. On the other hand, the BMC claims they have not interfered with the bridge at all, and it is more likely that the railways' design is to blame for the collapse. Far from uniting to investigate the cause of the disaster, the two authorities are busy playing the blame game.

While an independent inquiry will eventually disclose the cause, civic officials said that after a visual inspection of the crash site, they now suspect that the load-bearing cross-sections or brackets were small. While this has not been an issue for all this time, the bridge is now 47 years old, and over time, the brackets might have rusted or got worn down. A senior BMC official said, "The cross-section of the bridge, which holds the walkway together, might have shrank due to rusting. It is always preferable to have wider cross sections; this one seems to be a little narrow."

The railways, in turn, accused the BMC of quietly placing utility cables that added to the load. A senior railway official said, "This is a cantilever bridge, which means it is hanging on one side. Such bridges take limited weight. It is the BMC that gives permission to lay these utilities, and we are not even informed."

According to railway sources, more utilities were added on top, sandwiched under yet another layer of paver blocks each time. "The BMC keeps adding multiple layers of these cables without our knowledge. Had we been informed about this, we might have been able to avoid this accident," said a WR official.

BMC engineer says
BMC's engineers at the spot said that despite the railways' claims, it is mandatory to design and construct bridges to bear three times more load than the estimated requirement. They also added that the utility cables were made of fibre and aren't heavy enough to bring the bridge down.

At the same time, SO Kori, who is the chief engineer of bridges at the civic body, vehemently denied that they had anything to do with the utilities. "The railways don't allow us to enter their premises, and can even charge us for trespassing if we do anything there. Thus, it is their responsibility to construct, maintain, repair or reconstruct. Even the collapsed portion will have to be reconstructed by their team; we will only provide the funds."

He added, "Whenever we are asked for permissions from utility agencies, we always direct them to the railways. Why would the railways allow any kind of utility work in their premises when they charge even us for trespassing?"

Except for two bridges - Hancock and Milan ROB - all are constructed and maintained by the railway authorities with financial help from the civic body. "There are too many permissions required for any kind of work in railway premises, and that is why we never interfere. Because of this, even our reconstruction of Hanock bridge was stalled because of this."

Also read: Andheri bridge collapse: Alert motorman applies train brakes in time, averts tragedy

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