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Mortal Metro

Clearly, the technology that drives the Metro has failed.

Statesman News Service | Kolkata |

The gruesome accident on Saturday underlines the legacy of shoddy maintenance of Kolkata’s Metro, once the proud boast of the city. Close to 35 years after its foundation in October 1984, the system has been blighted yet again.

It would be obfuscation of reality to dismiss the death of Sanjay Kanjilal ~ with two fingers stuck between the doors ~ as a freak accident; the death has thrown up the inherent frailties of the city’s rapid transport network. The accident has happened six months after a Metro rake caught fire, compelling commuters to jump onto the platform through the windows, a desperate escape that had fractured both legs of one commuter.

The closing doors trapped Kanjilal’s hand and he was dragged along the platform, quicker to death than to his destination. Can the train move without all the doors closed? Not the least because a signal to that effect is normally flashed by the guard. It wasn’t on Saturday. This is the primary issue that has left the Metro authorities shaking their heads in disbelief and ought to be of riveting concern of any enquiry that is commissioned.

That the train started moving is suggestive of a malfunction somewhere. Had the technology been effective, the train would not have been in motion and an “open door” signal would have been flashed. No less a puzzling point of reference must be that frantic attempts by co-passengers to alert the driver through the emergency “talk-back” unit failed to elicit a response. Nor for that matter did the helpline 182 function when it was direly essential. Thus was the death of Kanjilal, who earned his livelihood selling little magazines in the Nandan/Rabindra Sadan complex, hastened with the breakdown ~ by accident or design ~ of the internal communication system.

It was hastened too by the failure of what they call the “fail-safe technology” that is meant to prevent accidents like the one that occurred last weekend. The death, in a word, signifies the failure of the standard operating procedure.

Clearly, the technology that drives the Metro has failed. Furthermore, a matter of considerable concern is that one of the inherently defective new rakes ~ however sleek ~ was involved in the tragedy. It would be useful to recall that these rakes had failed a series of safety tests, and had been cleared for commercial runs only after the Railway Board waved the green flag.

Saturday’s tragedy ought to necessitate a rethink, specifically on whether the new rakes need an overhaul, and thus warrant the red flag. True the fleet of trains has been beefed up, but the risk of accidents, death and grievous injury is dangerously real. A commuter uses the Metro to travel fast, not to die. No, these rakes are not fit to run on the track between Dum Dum and Garia, let alone the East-West segment and the Joka-BBD Bag sector. It is a collective shame if the Metro becomes emblematic of what Andre Gunder Frank called the development of under-development.