Cables and paver blocks suspected of weakening section; both sides profess ignorance

The weight of multiple cables running under the pedestrian section of the ill-fated Gokhale Road Overbridge at Andheri station, which collapsed on Tuesday leaving five people injured, further weakened the structure, railway officials said on Wednesday. They added that none of the cables belong to government-run concerns. The cables run under paver blocks laid by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), which also added to the weight, officials said.

Cables and paver blocks being blamed for the collapse has led to a blame game in which both BMC and the Railways are washing their hands of the matter. Railways officials, who declined to be named, said they were shocked to see the number of cables running under the paver blocks in the pedestrian section. “The pedestrian section is not built to take so much weight,” said a senior official. Also, this section was supported by brackets, and not by the main girders, they added.

A railways official said the cables run through narrow pipes, and it is impossible to say how many such pipes were inserted under the paver blocks over time. “The BMC only informs us that they are doing work on railway land when there is a chance it might impact railway operations. Laying of paver blocks or minor road repairs are often done without intimating railway authorities,” a senior railways official said.

Bridge was in trouble

The 300 metre-long Gokhale Bridge was built in 1971. Only around 70m of this bridge’s length falls under Western Railway (WR) jurisdiction, while the rest is with the BMC. The civic body is responsible for resurfacing of bridge’s motorable and pedestrian sections, while the structure is maintained by WR.

S.O. Kori, chief engineer, Bridges Department, BMC, said, “For the first 10 years after it was built, the railways maintained the bridge for free. After that, we have been paying them regularly for maintenance work. We last paid them in 2011.”

An audit in 2010 of the expenses incurred in replacing the bridge’s bearings and expansion joints by BMC’s internal auditors had flagged several irregularities. According to the audit report, a telecom company had ‘unauthorisedly laid optic fibre which occupied 750mm width of the footpath. This has resulted in damaging footpath and tiles’. The auditors had estimated an expenditure of ₹6.77 lakh on repairs, and had recommended recovering this money from the private telecom company.

No accountability

Meanwhile, the BMC’s Bridges Department has claimed that the broken tiles did not impact the bridge’s structural strength. Transport expert Paresh Rawal, who drew attention to the BMC audit report, said the government should demarcate responsibility so that agencies can be held accountable. “There is no record of whether the BMC recovered this money, if any more audits were done, what happened to the reports; there is no coordination between BMC and the railways.”

On Tuesday, Union Railways Minister Piyush Goyal said the Commissioner of Railway Safety has initiated an inquiry into the collapse, and its report is expected in fifteen days.

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