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Tunnel vision on Metro emergency Metro sits on ideas

- Internal suggestions for safety ignored

The plight of passengers trapped inside a Metro tunnel without power supply in the rake for more than an hour on June 19 has triggered alarm over the transport lifeline’s lack of expertise in evacuation during an emergency.

Metro Railway has formed a committee to probe the reason for the rake stalling in the tunnel between Maidan and Park Street stations, ignoring the more important question: why did it take so long to bring out the passengers who were inside?

Motormen and technical personnel involved in the day-to-day functioning of the Metro apparently know what’s wrong but nobody in authority is listening to them. “Within the organisation, there has long been a clamour for regular drills and installation of mechanical ladders and battery-operated lights and fans in the non-AC rakes,” a source said.

Metro highlights the internal suggestions that the authorities have ignored so far.

Tunnel drills

Metro employees have been calling for a drill every month to prepare them for any eventuality. “Regular drills will also help detect small but crucial problems and increase coordination among various departments,” a source said.

On June 19, there was no announcement for about 20 minutes on why the train wasn’t moving and how long it would be before the 2,500-odd passengers were evacuated. The lack of coordination showed when power supply was switched off without warning and long before evacuation started.

“Normally, the control room informs the driver before snapping power supply to the third rail so that he can make an announcement,” the source said.

According to experts, the confusion wouldn’t have taken place had Metro Railway conducted safety drills inside the tunnels at regular intervals.

“We conduct drills in the yard because we can’t disrupt train services. But that doesn’t mean we have coordination problems (during emergencies). The evacuation procedure is well laid-out,” a senior Metro Railway official said.

Battery-run utilities

The non-AC rakes may have half-open windows but that is barely enough for ventilation inside a packed rake once the fans have stopped whirring.

Many passengers inside the rake that had stalled were taken ill because of suffocation. While they were being evacuated, faint emergency lights were the only other source of illumination apart from mobile phone torches.

Metro officials admitted that the emergency lights were adequate for barely 20 per cent of the required illumination. “There was a proposal to have batteries for lights and a few fans to maintain air circulation during a snag that might trigger or require a power cut. But that hasn’t been implemented,” an official said.

The air-conditioning system in the newer rakes run on batteries that are charged while the train is running.

“When there is no power, the blowers function with help of the batteries but the compressors go off,” the official said.

In the event of a power cut, the batteries run for a little less than 30 minutes before they run out of juice.

Metro Railway had briefly considered the idea of installing batteries for power back-up in non-AC rakes too but didn’t go ahead with it because of technical reasons. “These rakes are more than 20 years old and we need to change the wiring to install batteries. That would be risky because old wires can get damaged,” the official said.

Mechanised ladders

In the non-AC rakes, ladders have to be manually fitted to the driver’s door for evacuation. “These ladders are heavy and need at least two persons to handle,” a motorman said.

If a train gets stuck in a tunnel, someone has to come all the way from the other end of the train to the driver’s cabin to help him attach the ladder.

The AC rakes have a pulley system to bring the ladder down, which again requires two persons. “If there is an emergency, the person in the rear cabin needs to come to the driver’s assistance and that could take time if the train is crowded,” an official said.

An automated system can be installed in the AC rakes but the older fleet has no such provision, according to engineers.