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Power cuts go through the roof
Thrown off track, scurry for wheels

The domino collapse of three power grids on Tuesday threw rail services haywire, forcing nearly 11 lakh desperate commuters to make a dash for anything on wheels that would take them home.

Howrah and Sealdah plunged into chaos within minutes of the eastern grid breaking down at 1.01pm, snapping power supply to trains either in transit or about to depart or arrive at the two busiest stations of the region.

According to railway officials, around 170 trains — 45 of them long-distance — were stranded at various stations or in the middle of nowhere for hours. While long-distance passengers had little option but to bide time inside their coaches, daily commuters dependent on local trains had panic attacks at the thought of being stranded for the night.

Eastern Railway cancelled 211 suburban and four long-distance trains. South Eastern Railway cancelled four long-distance and 24 local trains.

Some local trains to and from Sealdah resumed plying at 2.50pm but services were nowhere near normal till late in the night. Trains between Howrah and Bhadreswar and to Baruipara on the Bardhaman chord line resumed around 5pm.

By 3.30pm, Barnali Sardar had spent more than two hours precariously perched on the footboard of the crowded Bandel Local standing on platform 5 of Howrah station. The second-year college student from Bandel had come to College Street to buy books. “This train was to start at 1.15pm. Nobody is leaving because it will be impossible to get into the train once power supply resumes,” she said.

Barnali finally took a train that left Howrah after 8.30pm.

At Sealdah, commuters were seen scurrying out of the station to find other transport on learning that this was no ordinary power outage. “I intend taking a bus but haven’t been able to find one I can board. Every bus is so overcrowded. I just saw a bus with people on the roof,” said Syed Nurul Biswas, headed for his Baruipur home.

The day had ended early for the Writers’ employee with chief minister Mamata Banerjee allowing all employees to leave around 3pm. “Forget reaching home early, I will be lucky to reach Baruipur tonight,” Biswas said.

Taxis outside Howrah and Sealdah stations preyed on the desperation of commuters, asking for thrice the metered or prepaid fares.

“Taxi drivers are asking for Rs 300 to go to Bally. The legitimate fare is around Rs 150 but I can’t protest today. This is the only way to reach home comfortably as of now,” said Akash Rohira, accompanied by his wife and two children.

Tapan Brahmachari, a lower division clerk at the Alipore judges’ court, had a harrowing time reaching his home at Garia station.

“I stepped out of office early and reached Ballygunge station around 4.30pm but train services hadn’t resumed till then. So I headed for Gariahat and took an autorickshaw that charged Rs 50 from each passenger, against the normal fare of Rs 13,” he said.

At the stations, the crowd crush increased with every hour’s delay in returning to normality. The first-class waiting room and the staircase leading to it at Howrah station was teeming with passengers who were to take the Upasana Express to Dehra Dun, scheduled to leave at 1.10pm.

Vijay Singh, one of the faces in the crowd, sat hoping the train wouldn’t be cancelled. “I am told the train will depart at 5.30pm and I pray it does,” he said.

Some of the long-distance trains stranded at various places, including the Sealdah and Howrah-bound Rajdhani Express, were pulled by diesel engines to the nearest stations.

The New Delhi-Sealdah Rajdhani Express, stranded at Belmuri station, was brought to its destination by a diesel engine late in the afternoon. The Sealdah-Delhi Rajdhani left as scheduled at 4.50pm.

Metro Railway was the only bright spot, running normally through the day.

Disruption dossier

Problems started: 1pm

Eastern Railway

  • Services partially resumed at Sealdah: 2.50pm (Sealdah-Kalyani)
  • Services partially resumed at Howrah: 5pm (Howrah-Bhadreswar and Howrah-Baruipara)
  • Effect felt: Till late into the evening, the services were far from normal

South Eastern Railway

  • Services partially resumed at Chakradharpur and Ranchi: 3.45pm
  • Services partially resumed at Howrah: 5pm
  • Second disruption: 6.30pm (From Kolaghat till Bhadrak)
  • Services partially resumed: 8.15pm
  • Effect felt: Till late into the evening, the services were far from normal

NON-CESC AREAS

Resident: Nita Mitra, 68, of GD block in Salt Lake, said: “There’s no electricity and we can’t switch on the pump. Neither can we get the Aquaguard to work. And the mineral water bottles are all sold out.”

Stranded Commuter: Aman Agarwal, co-owner of Katerpillarr Café in Salt Lake, was stuck in Deogarh. “I was supposed to leave for Calcutta in the afternoon but there is no way I can return home and my cellphone’s battery is about to die,” he said.

Mall: At City Centre, Salt Lake, generators kept things going. The mall management requested stores to shut by 8.30pm. “After all, a generator cannot run for a very long time,” said P. Sandeep, vice-president (facility management).

Multiplex: INOX (City Centre, Salt Lake) did not hold shows after 9.30pm. Power went off for a few minutes at INOX (Swabhumi). At INOX (Liluah), films were screened on schedule using generators. At Broadway in Salt Lake, the power backup could last “at least three days”, said a spokesperson.

Restaurant: Afraa at City Centre, Salt Lake, was forced to shut down in the evening, hours before the scheduled 11.30pm close.

Hotel: Hyatt Regency took a hit. “A power cut of this magnitude has not happened before. If we continue to run on generators, we will incur a high cost,” said a
spokesperson.

CESC AREAS

Mall: At Forum on Elgin Road, “the 100 per cent power backup generator set and sufficient diesel” ensure that things could run smoothly “till Wednesday evening”, said Ujjal, vice-president of Forum Projects. South City, too, ran on power backup. “We are not facing any problem but employees from the suburbs are worried about returning home. The footfall increased in the evening, perhaps because residents of the area dropped in to be in the AC,” said Manmohan Bagri, the mall’s vice-president.

Multiplex: Shows were held at the Fame properties at South City and Hiland Park and on Ganesh Chandra Avenue using generators. The authorities contemplated scrapping shows, but decided against it since advance tickets had been sold.

Standalone cinema: At Mitra cinema in Hatibagan, there was a power cut from 1pm to 2pm during the noon show of Awara, starring Jeet. “The show continued using generators, only the AC had to be switched off,” said hall owner D. Mitra.

Shoot: Power went off at NT1 Studio at 4pm, but thanks to generators, shoots of TV serials could continue. At a Deshapriya Park house, where a sequence of Aami Aar Amaar Girlfriends was being shot with Raima Sen, Swastika Mukherjee and Parno Mittra, director Mainak Bhaumik complained of “frequent power cuts” making the “heat and humidity” unbearable.

Café: Kafe Bindass! had to shut its Lake Road outlet at 5.30pm. “There was no power since morning. It is not possible to run so many machines with generators for an extended period,” said proprietor Manisha Nath.

Confectioner: The power cut at Cakes on Rawdon Street left a bad taste in the mouth. “The fresh cream pastries are all getting spoilt,” said an official.

Patient: Chandana Dutta, 55, said: “I travelled all the way from Santoshpur to Gariahat for physiotherapy but to no avail. My husband took leave from office and accompanied me as I need assistance. The missed session could affect my health.”