Interview: “No Problem in System, People have to Follow it”, says CRS (Western) over Andheri Road-Over-Bridge collapse

Whatever inspections of the bridge were done will be considered into the inquiry. All recorded inspections will be taken care of, says Chandra. Corrosion, excess load caused Mumbai’s Andheri bridge collapse: said the Report.
Sushil Chandra, CRS-Western Circle

MUMBAI: Last week, Commissioner of Railway Safety (Western Circle) Sushil Chandra found the railways and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation to be at fault in his preliminary report on the collapse of the pathway of G K Gokhale bridge near Andheri station.

The 15-page report, submitted to the Railway Board, includes suggestions and recommendations on what railways could do to improve maintenance practices. Chandra speaks on the rules of maintaining railway assets and how practices could be improved.

RailNews: What are the responsibilities and powers of the Commissioner of Railway Safety?

Sushil Chandra: Our functions are two-fold. We conduct inquiry into serious railway accidents and submit its report to the railway authorities that is later sent to the Railway Board. The Board further looks into our suggestions and many of our recommendations get implemented over time. Secondly, we also give sanction to any new lines or stations that are inaugurated in railways, which include doubling of lines, gauge conversion, diversion of track or a new station, construction of new bridges, changes in yard and signalling – the railways takes our sanction before executing this job. Part of the responsibility includes inspection of the railway system, accompanying General Managers on their annual inspection to conduct a detailed study of railway assets.

Our job profile pre-dates India’s independence. The first CRS, in 1908, was a government inspector when railways was privately owned. Senior government inspectors would supervise many of the functions of railways. Under the British rule, the CRS was removed from the Railway ministry and shifted to the Post and Telegraph ministry. A Chief Commissioner of Railway Safety presides over nine Commissioners of Railway Safety.

Though railways got expanded into 16 zones, there continue to be only nine CRS which is why sometimes, a single CRS looks after more than one zone. The jurisdiction of CRS is called a circle. When Metro railway started, they also became a part of our purview which is why we are also called the Commissioner of Metro Railway Safety.

RailNews: You have been inquiring into the collapse of the G K Gokhale Road overbridge between Andheri and Vile Parle stations on the Western Railway, a preliminary report of which was submitted last week. What aspects were looked into and what were the findings?

Sushil ChandraWhen this accident took place, I inspected the accident site and checked on the victims who were injured in the collapse. We have conducted a detailed inspection by checking the debris – which include 19 brackets from the bridge, cables, pipes, PVC pipes, slabs. We called a metallurgist from the Parel workshop of the Central Railway, who conducted a failure analysis of the components because he is a specialist in chemical and metal analysis. A team of officers also measured parts of the bridge and contributed to the inquiry. We took the statements of concerned railway officers who were involved in the design-making, construction and maintenance of the bridge. We gave a chance to Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) to represent themselves (the bridge belongs to MCGM) but they did not turn up.

While making the report each nuance of the bridge was inspected. Old drawings of the bridge from the 70s were seen and scientific analysis was made to understand what provisions were there and how much it was overloaded due to additional items. Corrosion of the plates and thinning down of section due to overloading caused the failure of the pathway, which led to its collapse. We would submit the final report within six months.

RailNews: According to records, the G K Gokhale bridge was inspected twice – in November 2017 and April 2018 by officials of the Western Railway and no “major threat” to the bridge was certified. How will your inquiry look into the alleged failure of their inspection?

Sushil ChandraWhatever inspections of the bridge were done will be considered into the inquiry. All recorded inspections will be taken care of. Method, machine and material are important in effective management. So punishment is not important. More than who is responsible, what is responsible is important.

RailNews: The railways inspects each bridge before and after the monsoon. In the past one month, since the collapse of the bridge, the railways has shut at least four bridges for use by terming them unsafe. What does it say about the way bridges have been inspected until now?

Sushil ChandraWhenever any accident takes place regarding a particular asset, we check on the safety of other assets owned. This is because we do not want to take a chance. Similarly, as the pathway of the bridge collapsed, they are checking on the safety of other bridges. Wherever they have the slightest doubt about the safety of the bridge, they attend to the bridge.

The railways does follow a preventive maintenance approach, which is clearly stated in the railway manuals and codes. The codes are exhaustive and detailed procedures to conduct maintenance is listed. So if corroded bridges are not being attended to, it is not the problem of the system but people have to follow the system. If they do not follow the system properly, then anything can happen. So officials must work towards following this system rigorously. Something is not being done, which is why the accident has taken place.

RailNews: Is modern technology used for maintenance of suburban railway assets, including coaches, tracks and bridges?

Sushil ChandraThere is scope for improvement everywhere. The Western Railway is trying to use tower wagons for inspecting bridges and are developing a vehicle so that bridges could be inspected with minimum traffic block. So, things are improving. According to railway safety statistics, accidents have come down this year. Earlier, engineering vehicles were not there in the Konkan railway to reach the spot but now they are available.

Things cannot change overnight. Of course, advanced countries have a lot of technology and slowly within its own limitations, railways is doing it. The system is so congested and one cannot frequently ask for traffic blocks. In limited time, we have to maintain something. Drainage is not proper, people throw their muck across railway tracks. The codes and manuals do not state how to maintain the system with so much filth thrown across railway tracks.

Working conditions are not good. You cannot ensure that water refrains from entering the tracks. Nobody can work on the limitations in Mumbai suburban section and railway traffic needs to go on.

RailNews: What could be done to improve maintenance standards of bridges by both BMC and railways?

Sushil ChandraWhen more than two agencies are involved, synchronisation is must. The best manner would be to clearly define responsibilities. A proper agreement between the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and railways for conducting maintenance is necessary. So far, I have not seen any agreement for the Gokhale bridge between the railways and BMC. Such agreements can avoid blame games between different bodies of work. So if the state government or BMC is doing any work on the railway premise, they must take due permission from railways.

RailNews: Should railways conduct a fair third-party audit of all bridges regularly?

Sushil ChandraMany railway engineers are experienced officials. You cannot have an external agency to sit on your head and do the work. One needs to be self-disciplined to do the required work.

The railways are using experts wherever required. So, for bridges whose foundation is under water then after every five years, underwater inspection is done where divers and private agencies are asked to conduct the inspection. For road deflection tests, railways would suggest methodology and schemes and test is done by the private agency. So railways engages third party officials and experts wherever necessary.

RailNews: By the end of this year, Mumbai may have at least 100 foot overbridges and amenities for the suburban section. Will that make the task of maintenance of bridges more difficult?

Sushil ChandraWhenever assets increase, railways would have to work on increasing manpower and equipment in terms of machines. For emergency repair, there is never a funds crunch. It is not necessary that more funds are required to check on the bridges. The railways is already doing track renewal of so many kilometres. In railways, accidents never take place due to a fund crunch.

RailNews: So, as per your Report what are the major other causes of the Bridge collapse at Andheri? Please explain in detail.

Sushil ChandraCorrosion of steel brackets and piling of additional weight allowed by the Brihanumbai Municipal Corporation led to the partial collapse of a Road Over Bridge in Mumbai earlier this month. I attribute the mishap occurred due to “failure of Railway staff and others”. The probe found that civic officials allowed extra load on the bridge in the form of various cables, sand, paver blocks and other materials, without the approval of Western Railway (WR). The accident occurred due to heavy/deep corrosion and pitting of cantilever steel brackets supporting the pathway resulting in thinning down of section. Additional load of various cables, sand, paver blocks etc provided by the BMC without prior permission from the Western Railway, not contemplated when the bridge was designed, also contributed to its weakening.