Railways block Mumbai's growth


By Rajendra Aklekar  www.daily.bhaskar.com

Mumbai: With two railway lines vertically splitting Mumbai into western and eastern suburbs, the city’s east-west connectivity, which is now dependent on a handful of roads, has always been a bane.

The issue is compounded by railways’ stringent regulations when it comes to giving permissions and slowing down trains (by taking up one-lane blocks) for construction of over-bridges and subways across railway lines. As a result, work on a number of bridges and subways has virtually hit a dead-end.

While city planners and local authorities have taken up and proposed a number of such roads, construction of many of them is stuck in red-tape and riddled with endless delays due to railways’ reluctance. ”Railways have been a problem since long as they have a different set of rules and discipline. A major part of any east-west linkage is getting their permission for construction work across the tracks,” said a retired engineer of the public works department.

”A large number of projects have been delayed as many a times, road engineers fail to understand the requirements and specifications of railway engineers, who are quite precise and meticulous while accepting and approving drawings of structures that will be placed above or below rail lines,” he added.

”Seldom is the problem not accounted for in the planning stage, but one cannot anticipate the queries or objections railways will raise at the last minute,” he added.

Senior railway officials defend their actions. “The suburban railway is the lifeline of the city, ferrying seven million commuters every day, and hence no compromises can be allowed. Any structure above the rail line or below it has to meet the stringent standards set by railways as any laxity can be dangerous,” a top railway official said.

He gave the example of the girders of Kopri bridge at Thane, which came crashing down along with water pipes on a new suburban train, killing the motorman. “The girders had been placed on wooden blocks for a long period, which led to the accident,” he added.

Explaining their stand on blocks, he said that railways can allow them for not more than two hours at night, and that too during off season when the traffic is low. “Blocks involve slowing down the services, by either cancelling them or imposing speed limits. This slows down the entire network and also affects national rail traffic,” he said.

Transport experts say it is railways’ responsibility to allow such requests. “Both the views are correct, but railways should realise that they are virtually halting growth of the city. In Mumbai, the problem seems to be quite serious with so many projects pending. The issue is old and known and they should allow the required blocks. If they can sacrifice Sundays for maintenance blocks, shouldn’t they do it for the cause of the city?” asked Jitendra Gupta, a member of Citizen Transport Committee, an NGO rooting for completion of connectivity projects.