Mumbai Rains: What took authorities so long, ask distressed passengers of Mahalaxmi Express
Photo by NAVY and FPJ

Badlapur/Vangani: Seventeen hours after the Kolhapur-bound Mahalaxmi Express was stranded near Vangani in Thane due to flooding on tracks following heavy rains on Friday, all 1,050 passengers, including nine pregnant women on board the train were rescued in a multi-agency operation on Saturday. Central Railway (CR) officials said all the passengers, including nine pregnant women, were rescued by 3pm.

Several boats were used for the rescue operation, while 37 doctors, including a gynaecologist, were deployed at the site. The train was stranded at the spot from 3 am, passengers said.

Units of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), the Army, Navy, Air Force, and railway officials were deployed from early morning to rescue the passengers, who thanked the authorities for the help. The express left Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus at 8.20pm on Friday but at 10.30pm, when the train reached near Vangani, the tracks were under 2-3 feet water. Promptly, the loco pilot alerted the railway authorities.

However, some passengers told The Free Press Journal, the authorities were not quick to jump into action. According to a woman passenger, it was Vangani locals who rushed to the spot early in the morning, with refreshments. "They provided us tea and vada-paav," she said.

A senior citizen couple said, "At midnight, not a single government agency was at the spot when the lights and fans were switched off. We were all so afraid. In distress, we called the toll-free number but no one took us seriously. However, our heartfelt thanks to the villagers, who came here and gave us some help."

The lights had gone out in the train, and helplessness among passengers was underlined by lack of communication from all quarters, including the railways, as cell phones had gone dead due to drained batteries or defunct due to poor network.

"When I dialled 100 (the police helpline), I was told it was matter concerning the railways. I was shocked to hear such a response, that too from the police," a student in the train said. "When the train got marooned, all we could see was water all around. But our fear kept rising because we had no clue what was going around. That helplessness was the most agonising part of this ordeal. When you know you are in life-threatening trouble but you do not know if help is on its way, the despair just increases manifold," said another rescued passenger.

He said the train had got stranded at Badlapur station itself around midnight, but lack of communication from railway authorities meant people did not know what lay ahead. "Had we been told at Badlapur itself that the tracks were flooded, we would have alighted and cancelled our trip," he said.

Failure to communicate

Once again, the railways failed to coordinate and make proper announce-ments, subjecting passengers to unnecessary distress. Passengers on the Mahalaxmi Express said, officials and staff at Badlapur and Kalyan stations only had to pass along information on the flooding to CSMT. They could have made announcements at all the stations and should have terminated the train at Kalyan junction. Unfortunately, there were no such announcements either at the platform or inside their train, said rescued passengers.

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