Kolkata’s proud boast is in tatters. Thursday’s fire and dense smoke in an air-conditioned rake of the city’s Metro was a horrific metaphor on the disastrous unpreparedness of the authorities. With the resultant collapse of surface transport, the city was thrown out of joint.

To attribute the mishap to a “third rail” glitch can only be of academic interest to the daily users, though it does underline the poor maintenance of the tracks. The hundreds of thousands of commuters, at the close of office hours, doubtless deserved better than the negligent nonchalance that plagues underground connectivity.

People use the Metro, albeit an extension of the suburban track, to travel fast, not to fracture both legs or leave the station for the nearest hospital on stretchers. This is precisely what happened on Thursday ~ a dire shame on the Metro authorities. The system long ago ceased to be a comfortable mode of transit, and revolting indeed must be any comparison with the Chennai Metro.

In the net, the Underground transportation network bore witness to multiple mishaps, the firescare being the worst since the network was introduced, however partially in October 1984.

Altogether, the accident showcases the appalling failure of the authorities, chiefly to respond promptly and swiftly to the cries of passengers. It is a collective disgrace for Metro Bhavan that the emergency numbers did not function. On a day that witnessed the retreat of the staff, between Rabindra Sadan and Maidan stations ~ indeed the office-cum-diplomatic hub ~ the indifference was as incredible as it was overwhelming.

Small wonder that the virtually trapped ~ and breathless ~ passengers were compelled to break the glass panels and wriggle out onto the platform in a desperate attempt to save themselves from further disaster. By any reckoning, this was an intrepid escape that resulted in crippling injuries to no fewer than 50 commuters.

Breathless no less were the Metro authorities who failed to rise to the occasion, faced as they were with the task of rescuing the passengers. Just as the fire has underscored the inherently crucial utility of the Metro, so too has it thrown up the chronically brittle nature of surface transport which was thrown out of gear almost totally along the north-south arterial stretch, with spillover effects throughout the city.

From the collapse of the Posta Bazar flyover to the Metro fire via the collapse of Majerhat bridge, connectivity has been the singular casualty of urban planning. The hapless commuters can only hope that the Railway authorities will draw a lesson, and not docket the enquiry findings as routinely done. For all the jollity, the drawing of the curtains on 2018 has been ghastly, and frightfully so.