Can Railways raise platform levels in Mumbai by 31st March? -Part I

The Bombay High Court, while rejecting the action plan for raising of suburban railway station platforms as submitted by Central as well as Western Railway, has set a deadline of 31 March 2015. The Railways do not seem to be making enough efforts to devise ways to meet the challenge. This two part article suggests how it can be done


About 75 lakh rail trips are completed daily on the Mumbai Suburban Railway System. The peak hour densities are most un-envious, reaching 16 people per square meter, as recently as three years ago. This was when the conversion of 9-coach rakes to 12-coach rakes was midway to completion and the number of trips had grown to 70 lakhs from 60 lakhs in early 2000 when Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP) was conceived and implementation. Such high densities in the door bays of the electric multiple units (EMUs) has been the cause of injuries and fatalities from falling off trains or getting hit by posts between tracks, signal posts, signages and overhead cables.


Fatalities have been occurring due to commuters or trespassers crossing tracks or walking along them. There have also been injuries and fatalities due to people slipping into the gap between the platform edge and the coach floor, despite the fact that the coach floor overlaps the platform edge by 70 mm to 100 mm. This class of injuries or fatalities are, however, less than 10% of the total injuries or fatalities occurring on the Mumbai suburban railway system. The fatality figures had reached a little above 4,000 per year just a few years back. The Railways have been making efforts to address the issue, but sadly these efforts have only been forced due to public interest litigations (PILs).


The PIL by Dr Sarosh Mehta in 2001 followed by Samir Zaveri, himself a victim of a rail accident, in 2008, have resulted in Court directives to make the Railways address these issues. There is another PIL by the India Centre for Human Rights and Law (ICHRL) in 2007, that seeks to make Railways, suburban and main line, accessible to persons with disabilities (PwD). In response to PILs of 2007, a Court Committee was formed comprising not only members from Technical, Operational and Passenger Services sections of Railways, but also two PwD and four technical experts from the petitioner’s side. The Railways' response to this committee has been lukewarm.


However, subsequent to the spate of accidents involving passengers falling in the gap between the platform and the coach, the Court set in motion a suo-motu PIL in January 2014. It entrusted the responsibility for enabling Railway Suburban operations to be safer, to the committee formed under the PIL of 2007.


The problem was, that while the level of coach floors was about 1,200mm high from the top of the rail, the platform levels officially ranged between 760mm and 840mm, thus leaving a vertical gap ranging between 360mm and 440mm. This is adequate for anyone to slip in and suffer an accident. To address this problem, about five years back in 2009, Western Railways on their own had sought from the Railway Board that raise the platform levels to 920mm. But apparently, the Railway Board had other more pressing work than to look into this proposal.


In response to the suo-moto PIL of 2014, the Railways pressed the Railway Board and the Research Design and Standards Organisation (RDSO), to see whether the 920mm platform height can be cleared for implementation. Tests were carried out around the end of February 2014. The RDSO report was then presented to the Committee and the Committee recommended that it would be safer to raise the level to 900mm rather than 920mm.


The Court then sought an action plan for raising the platform heights to this level, and the action plans were presented by both, CR and WR. The WR stated that they can raise only 32 platforms by 31 October 2015, 16 platforms by July 2016 and 97 platforms by July 2017, provided, funds are allocated for the latter two right now, or else they would take 24 months and 36 months from the date of release of funds. The CR seemed to be more optimistic and said they would raise 24 platforms by 31 May 2015. The Court directed both the Railways in their Order dated 2 July 2014 that this be done by 31 March 2015 and in any case definitely before 31 July 2015.


Apparently, the General Manager of WR made a press statement recently, saying that the target set by the Court is close to impossible even if full funds were made available today.


I believe one has to think out-of-the-box, to meet challenges and I feel that this target can be achieved. How this can be done will be tackled in the second part of this two-part series.


So far, the Railways have been thinking of raising the platform with the edge at a distance of 1,670mm – 1,680mm from the centerline of tracks, as specified in Indian Railway Schedule of Dimensions (IR-SoD-2004), the bible for all dimensional constraints for railway construction details. With coach widths of 3,560mm at floor level, the coach edge will be 1,780mm from the track centerline which means there would be an overlap of 100mm over the edge of platform.


The out-of-the-box solution would be to raise the platform to about 1,200mm to enable near level boarding or alighting. This will also enable PwDs on wheelchairs to board the coach or alight from it independently and with ease, without any help.


Part Two of this article will discuss the details of ideas for near level boarding and alighting and how that can be achieved before 31 July 2015.


(Sudhir Badami an IIT Bombay graduate in Civil & Structural Engineering, is a Transportation Analyst. He is on Government of Maharashtra’s Steering Committee on BRTS for Mumbai and Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority’s Technical Advisory Committee on BRTS for Mumbai. He is also member of Research & MIS Committee of Unified Mumbai Metropolitan Transport Authority. He was member of Bombay High Court appointed erstwhile Road Monitoring Committee (2006-07). He is member of the Committee Constituted by the Bombay High Court for making the Railways, especially the Suburban Railways System Friendly towards Persons with Disability.)

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