Converting the unprecedented lockdown into an opportunity, Mumbai divisions of the Central Railway and Western Railway are extensively carrying out safety and maintenance works on the suburban network, which was not possible during the normal busy train schedules. It has been a month since trains stopped plying on the Mumbai suburban rail network, which is one of the busiest and congested in the world.
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Nearly 3,000 local train services operate on the route daily and over 80 lakh commuters use it everyday, making it the lifeline of the country's financial capital. Since disruption of services for even 15 minutes leads to a chaotic situation, rail authorities used to carry out important maintenance and safety works either during the few hours window available late night or by enforcing mega blocks during the weekends or holidays, when comparatively less commuters travel in the local trains.
As the system is so busy and overburdened, a few hours are never sufficient for carrying out some of the critical maintenance works and those lead to disruptions sometimes, causing hardships to commuters, a railway offical said. But, as the trains are now not running since a month due to the coronavirus-enforced lockdown, the rail authorities are carrying out maintenance of the rail signalling system, tracks, overhead equipment and the rolling stock, he said. "The Western Railway is using this as an opportunity to complete the maintenance works wherever required, since getting a traffic block in this division is a big challenge," Western Railway's chief said Ravinder Bhakar said.
Since the lockdown began, keymen are inspecting every inch of the 1,394 km track everyday. About 210 km of track and 1,250 critical welds were tested by ultrasonic flaw detectors, he said. "The entire fleet of track machines has worked and done tamping of 99 km of track and 105 turnouts. For the health assessment of the tracks, the Oscillation Monitoring System (OMS) run was conducted on 2,503 km of the railway track," said Bhakar.
The Western Railway also completed several other works of overhead equipment, signal and telecom infrastructure maintenance during the ongoing lockdown, he added. The Central Railway's chief spokesperson Shivaji Sutar said along with track maintenance and testing, they carried out some critical works like removal of rusty portal booms of overhead equipment, maggering (an electric test) of signal and telecom cables of the entire Mumbai division, cleaning and maintenance of transformers, among others. "In the Asangaon-Kasara section, line block margin is very less, hence the traction distribution department utilised the lockdown period for removal of the rusty portal booms and 34 upright masts. These masts were about 70 years old and some were even of the British era," Sutar said. He said these works were being carried out by following the social distancing guidelines. "This period has also been utilised to carry out critical works to enhance the safety of train operations. The workplaces are sanitised and all social distancing norms are followed," Sutar added.