Eight suburban railway officials inspect the empty tracks of Platform 4 in neon-orange safety gear, hours after five students lost their lives in a freak accident. A steady stream of passengers enter and exit the St Thomas Mount Railway Suburban Railway Station, only briefly stopping on the footbridge to gape in shock at the tracks.
Just hours earlier, as the Chennai Beach- Tirumalpur suburban train pulled past the station, ten people who were holding a support pole inside the compartment and hanging onto the crowded train were hit by the cement fence at the St Thomas Mount Station. Five lost their lives while three remain critical at the Government General Hospital in Royapettah.
The bloodied tracks tell a woeful tale of students who had just perhaps hoped to get on with their day- one day closer to their dreams, plans and everything in between. A dented stainless steel tiffin box with food lies strewn across the platform. A green-coloured water bottle, a brown shoe and a college ID card, all half-soiled, half-bloodied. The yellowing fence is splattered with blood.
With a limping mongrel tailing him, Amir is anxiously running up and down the platform with a friend.
â€śHave you seen a foot, madam?â€ť he asks. â€śThe hospital canâ€™t find my nephewâ€™s foot. They said if we bring it in time, they will attach it. The ones they found in the hospital donâ€™t match. Would you let me know if you see it, please?â€ť The pleading uncle jumps onto the track that has now been shut down and hurries away. His nephew Chinna and two of his friends have just awoken in hospital and are awaiting surgery.
Viji, a mother of two had witnessed it all happen in a matter of minutes as she was dropping off her sons at school.
â€śI was in a rush. I was holding my sons in both hands and as we were rushing to reach their school, it happened in a flash. I heard loud screams below and looked down from the footbridge. The boys were being dragged across the fence and they fell one on top of the other. Before we knew what happened, there was blood all over the fence. I couldnâ€™t stand there anymore anymore with my children there.â€ť
While three men lost their lives on the spot, the injured were rushed in ambulances to hospitals nearby.
Shalini, who came to see what happened is aghast. The 32-year-old has been using the station all her life to commute to school, college and now work.
â€śEveryday, I also travelled like these boys. I would go in the same direction. The cement fence was erected here because people crossed between the tracks and that was a risk. Now the cement fence itself has turned dangerous. Everyday they travel in congested trains, why would today be any different? On other days, do they blame the students? When something goes wrong, they are ready to blame students. If people are not allowed to travel in crowded trains then deploy more trains, donâ€™t issue tickets after the cut off.â€ť
Unfortunately for the unsuspecting passengers, the train did not arrive on the usual Platform 2 on Tuesday, which does not have a fence. It landed instead on Platform No 4 which has a cemented yellow and red fence running along its side.
In the station masterâ€™s chambers, uncooperative staff refuse to even state the name of the railway official on morning duty. As the media struggled to get answers, a visibly flustered station master Babu Pugendran came out and answered a few questions.
â€śWe canâ€™t blame anyone here. The overhead equipment(OH line) got cut in Koyambedu. All the trains were diverted onto main line. It took time and it was overcrowded. They got hit on the cement fence. We werenâ€™t able to see. They suddenly fell down. The guard told me on my walkie talkie that this has happened. There is hardly any gap between the fence and the frame of the train," he said.
When asked if the station master had made announcements to let people know about the change of platforms, he says, â€śThe platform was changed as soon as the OH line was cut. The line got cut at 7 am. The train services were stopped and so we re-planned. The controllers decided to change programme. We made announcements repeatedly. Because all were standing over here(on Platform 2). All set trains coming on Platform 2 were changed today. Announcements were made in all stations.â€ť
Ayyappan, who lives in a shack across the street has been watching the tragic events unfold all day. When asked about the announcements, he slams, â€śStudents are rushing to school and college every morning in a hurry to study, do they really know whether the cement fence comes on the left side or the right side? Even if they announce, do they know whether the fence is there on Platform 2 or Platform 4? As it is they were late to college because of the delay, can they afford to wait around in the station till the next train comes? Even if they come five minutes late to class they are sent back home. Now their lives are gone. They will never go to class.â€ť