Mumbai: Suffocation complaints rise as Central Railway switches off blowers

Jul 06, 2018, 13:54 IST | Rajendra B. Aklekar

Commuters say problem becomes acute during monsoon, as all windows are shut; officials say keeping system on brings rainwater inside coaches

Mumbai: Suffocation complaints rise as Central Railway switches off blowers
The high humidity and rush-hour crowds can suffocate commuters without adequate ventilation. File pic

Commuters are blowing their cool, because the 'blowers' in local trains aren't working, leaving them with no ventilation. Already, peak-hour crowds don't leave any breathing room, and the problem gets worse when people shut the doors and windows to keep rainwater out. This is when the ventilation system is needed most, but railway authorities refuse to switch it on during monsoon.

By the railways' own admission, there is a major design flaw with the blowers — when they're on, they won't just pump fresh air into the coaches, but will also draw all the rainwater inside. The only choice for commuters is between breathing easier and getting drenched. Ravinder Bhakar, chief public relations officer for Western Railway (WR), said, "There is a problem with the blowers in the monsoon, as they draw rainwater into the coaches." These so-called state-of-the-art blowers were installed at a cost of R4 crore per coach. This brought the total cost to R48 crore for each 12-car train, just for the ventilation system.

These vents are connected to the blowers atop the train, and allow air into the coach
These vents are connected to the blowers atop the train, and allow air into the coach

Gasping for breath
The blowers are supposed to pump in 14,535 cubic metres of air per hour into each coach. During rush hour, about 10 to 12 commuters are cramped in a single square metre. In 2010, the authorities had conducted a series of cardio tests in a peak hour Virar fast local that was fitted with functioning blowers and found carbon dioxide (CO2) levels ranging between 800 to 1,400 parts per million. This is still higher than the maximum level of 700 ppm recommended by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).

It's far worse when the blowers don't function — CO2 levels go up to 1,400-2,400 ppm. Then consider closed doors and windows, and do the math. Once CO2 goes above 5,000 ppm, a person will gasp for breath; 10,000 ppm could be fatal.

The external unit and the internal vents
The external unit and the internal vents

Worse in Central Railway
The system had failed in the older Siemens rakes, but still perform well in the Bombardier trains. While WR keeps the blowers operational in Bombardier trains, CR keeps them switched off in all trains. "Why are the blowers switched off? If they do not function, what is their use? In this humidity, the rush hour crowd is suffocating," said Rinkesh Shah, a commuter.

Another passenger, Vijay Aravamudhan, said that he had emailed officials several times, but there was no response or action. "It is more so a problem with CR, as they do not even pay heed to our complaints," he added. Sunil Udasi, Central Railway's (CR) chief PRO, said, "During the monsoon, blowers in the old rakes are switched off because water can seep in with heavy winds. This issue has been resolved in the new rakes. However, we will look into the matter."

700ppm
Max recommended indoor CO2 concentration

2,400ppm
CO2 levels in compartment when blowers don't function

Rs 48cr
Cost of installing blowers in a 12-car train

14.5K
Cubic metres of fresh air blowers pump in every hour

Also read: Crush hour: 410 suffocated to death in local trains this year

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