The Telegraph
Thursday , September 20 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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Panic attack on train in tunnel
30mins in the dark, gasping for air

A powerless Metro train lit only by dim emergency lights got stuck in the tunnel for 30 minutes on Wednesday afternoon, triggering panic among gasping passengers, four of whom collapsed and had to be stretchered out.

The Kavi Subhash-bound train came to a halt about a minute after leaving Chandni Chowk station as a fire alert forced the Metro Railway control room to switch off power supply to the third rail, which feeds electricity to the rake.

When firemen and disaster management personnel evacuated the passengers through the driver’s cabin, many of them were gasping and four of them had to be carried out on stretchers.

The passengers had to walk down the tunnel for a minute to reach Esplanade station, where they were asked to rest till they “regained strength” before emerging overground.

Metro officials said flames were first spotted on the third rail of the Kavi Subhash-bound tracks between Chandni Chowk and Esplanade stations at 12.05pm. The train was then at Chandni Chowk.

“Power supply to the third rail was immediately stopped. A six-inch-long wet rubber pipe was spotted near the third rail and removed. Supply was resumed soon after,” said an official.

However, a minute after the train left Chandni Chowk, sparks were spotted again, prompting the authorities to suspend supply for a second time.

“Just before the train stopped around 12.07pm after leaving Chandni Chowk station, the lights in all the compartments went out and the fans stopped working,” recalled Debarati Chatterjee, who had boarded the train at Sovabazar-Sutanuti with mother Aruna, a patient of hypertension and thyroid imbalance. “It was getting hotter by the second and we were all feeling suffocated,” said Chatterjee.

Panic set in when the train failed to move even after 10 minutes. Absence of any communication from the Metro authorities added to their fear.

“When the train did not move for another 10 minutes, some of us tried to break the glass panels while others started pressing the emergency buttons frantically. Still there was no communication,” said a passenger who chose not be named.

When the public address system finally crackled to life, the one-line announcement merely said the train could not move because of some power problems. “There was no word on how and when the trapped passengers, many of whom had fallen sick because of lack of oxygen and the heat, would be rescued,” said Somnath Chatterjee, who was in the last coach.

An elderly man in one of the rear coaches collapsed after complaining of suffocation and was helped along by fellow passengers.

After a fear-filled wait for half an hour, rescue personnel brought the passengers back to the safety of the platform.

Officials said they had initially decided to finish the maintenance work before letting the train reach Esplanade. “We had to stop the repairs midway after the motorman alerted us that the trapped passengers were being suffocated,” said an official.

“Why did they not evacuate the passengers and bring them to a safe place before starting repairs?” demanded Krishnendu Roy, who felt so unwell that his colleagues had to be called to accompany him back home.

“Normality was restored at 1.28pm but the six-minute interval between two trains stretched to 15-20 minutes because of heavy rush,” a Metro spokesperson said.

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