At least 22 killed in stampede at Mumbai railway station
Incident took place during heavy rain as commuters feared colonial-era bridge would collapse
The mother of a stampede victim sits beside her son’s body as it is transported from a hospital in Mumbai, India, on Friday. Photograph: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters
At least 22 people died and more than 32 were injured in a rush-hour stampede during a monsoon downpour in Mumbai on Friday.
Indian Rail officials feared the death toll could rise, as many of the injured had been admitted to hospital in serious condition.
The tragedy took place during the morning rush hour at Elphinstone suburban railway station in downtown Mumbai, which connects two major commuter lines and is used daily by tens of thousands of people.
Rail officials said overcrowding on the station’s narrow and rickety footbridge, which during rush-hour takes travellers nearly half an hour to ascend and descend, triggered the pandemonium,
Commuters told television news channels that the bridge, dating back to colonial times, swayed under the weight on thousands crossing it.
They said repeated complaints over the years to station officials to widen the bridge had been ignored.
“The incident occurred as heavy rain lashed Mumbai and passengers took refuge on the footbridge,” Indian Rail spokesman Ravindra Bhakar said.
People at the front of the crowd slipped and the surging crowd toppled over one another, causing the stampede, he added.
Police said the mass of commuters, convinced that the bridge was collapsing, panicked further and tried to get off it and on to the platform.
Television news footage from the scene showed panic-stricken people trying to rescue passengers and revive others who were being trampled upon.
Federal Rail minister Piyush Goel has ordered an inquiry into the incident and provincial authorities have promised €6,470 as compensation to the families of the deceased.
Local MPs from the Hindu Right Wing Shiv Sena Party said former rail minister Surech Prabhu had acknowledged the need for erecting a new bridge more than three years ago, but had done little thereafter.
“The government has money to introduce Japanese bullet trains, but no money for repairing bridges,” said local MP Sanjay Raut, whose party is aligned with prime minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“It [the federal government] lets poor passengers die and for moneyed passengers it talks about bullet trains,” he added. He was referring to the inauguration earlier this month by Mr Modi of the bullet train from his western home province of Gujarat to Mumbai.
Founded by the colonial administration in 1853, Indian Rail is the world’s third-largest network, transporting 23 million travellers, or nearly five times Ireland’s population, every day.
Currently, however, it is broke due to recurring losses over decades, spawned by inefficiency and corruption.
Senior officials admit it barely has enough money to pay for itself, let alone invest in long overdue modernisation and safety measures, resulting in frequent accidents.
The federal railway ministry recently told parliament that more than 800 people had died in about 450 accidents between 2013 and 2017 due to poor maintenance, outdated rolling stock, corroded rail lines and bridges dating back to colonial times.
Another 15,000-odd people were run over by speeding trains every year while crossing rail tracks – about 3,000 of them on Mumbai’s busy suburban network alone, which transports more than seven million commuters each day.