The Mumbai Metro leak is not a big deal at all

The big news in Mumbai since yesterday is that Mumbai’s newest pride, the brand new Mumbai Metro, is already leaking water, according to social media and media reports. Quartz India was quite dramatic saying, "....the newest mass transit system in India’s financial capital—built by a consortium led by billionaire Anil Ambani’s Reliance Infrastructure—has spectacularly failed in the face of Mumbai’s legendary monsoon rains."

For a minute there you might be forgiven for thinking every train had sprung leaks and the entire system had come to a standstill, or if your imagination was a bit more vivid like my 5 year old son’s, you might also include trains flying off the tracks and crashing on to the roads below and fireballs all over.

In the age of social media where everyone is carrying a camera as part of their phones and can instantly upload pictures and videos, it certainly seemed shocking--a sheet of water coming down from the roof. Perhaps the only giveaway that using words like ‘spectacularly failed’ may be making a mountain out of a molehill, lay the fact that none of the Mumbai Metro passengers in the pictures seemed to be bothered. No one seemed to be unduly concerned with most pictures showing passengers staring into space as passengers on mass transit systems usually do.

But to be fair, perhaps that’s because we Mumbaikars have become immune to monsoon-related problems such as flooded roads, flooded railway tracks, flooded homes, crippled transportation systems, open manholes, and the like.

 The Mumbai Metro leak is not a big deal at all

A Mumbai Metro rake. AFP.

All this thanks to the excellent ‘living through Mumbai monsoon’ coaching provided to every Mumbaikar by Mumbai’s civic body, the MCGM, which announces every year without fail that Mumbai is monsoon-ready, only to see its claims washed away with the first day of heavy showers. Happens unfailingly in Mumbai, year after year after year.

And gallantly aiding the MCGM in its noble efforts are the development authority, the MMRDA and the Central and Western Railway, all of whom also spend crores of rupees on monsoon-readiness and seem to do nothing more than pour that taxpayer money down the drain.

And now, added to that list is the brand new Mumbai Metro that many thought would never see the light of day going by the delay after delay in construction and extension after extension when it came to launch dates.

Or is it? It’s not clear from the pictures and videos whether this problem of ‘leaks’ was seen on multiple Mumbai Metro trains or just one, and that too in just one part of one coach. But if so, certainly doesn’t let the Mumbai Metro off the hook, because a sheet of water coming down from the roof even in one part of one coach of one train points to poor maintenance or a manufacturing defect, but it may not be spectacular failure.

The Mumbai Metro’s response on the issue also took a fair amount of time, with one tweet at 7:21 PM yesterday saying the problem was detected at 11:30 AM and the train was taken off service and would be back today. On Facebook, which allows for longer responses, Mumbai Metro said around 5:30 PM yesterday: “We experienced some technical issues about a leakage in one of our Metro coaches at 11.30 in morning in one of our coaches. However, we inform you that our technical team inspected this issue quickly, and have rectified the matter.”

It’s clear the Mumbai Metro’s social media team should certainly respond faster when it comes to such incidents. What’s also clear is that this problem was limited to one part of one coach of one train, unless someone can provide convincing evidence otherwise, which shouldn’t be tough considering the ubiquity of camera phones.

The fact is, mechanical systems fail. A roof in a spanking new airport can spring a leak and often does. A water outlet on a train could get choked and the water collected could flow back into the coach through the air-conditioning vent during very heavy rains. And yesterday was one such day. In just three hours, parts of Mumbai where the Mumbai Metro runs saw nearly 150 mm of rain, and this caused problems all over Mumbai since the city’s drainage system can only handle 55 mm of rain in a day.

And incidentally, just yesterday, in perhaps a tad more serious leak in the transportation sector, a Qantas Airbus 380 superjumbo flying on the Los Angeles – Melbourne route sprung a leak and water poured down from the ceiling and flooded the floor, forcing the giant aircraft back to LA an hour into its flight.

The culprit? A water pipe that burst. The passengers on board certainly seemed far more worried going by the pictures (as I would be too, if it happened on an aircraft mid-flight). Might also have to do with the fact that these First World folks are not coached in living when water’s pouring everywhere by civic agencies like the MCGM.

I’ve also known of brand new cars getting flooded because when some car mechanic fitted a floor accessory he inadvertently blocked an outlet through which rain water is supposed to flow out. Something similar may be occurred yesterday on the Mumbai Metro. Problem? Yes. Serious question about maintenance? Perhaps yes. But spectacular failure of the system?

The Mumbai Metro station.

The Mumbai Metro station.

Air-conditioned metro trains leaking is a problem that affects the Kolkata Metro too though that seems to be because of humidity and not during a heavy shower. Another issue could also be the fact that Mumbai Metro trains are not exactly spanking new as most Mumbaikars would believe. The first of these trains arrived in Mumbai over four years ago.

Hopefully, the technical teams managing maintenance of the rolling stock would have figured out what went wrong, as Mumbai Metro tweeted, and will put in place measures to ensure it doesn’t happen again. They’ve had four years with some of these trains now, so they really have no excuse for poor maintenance or claim these were unforeseen problems.

I have also witnessed a leak in a Metro station a little over a week ago, though to be fair to the Mumbai Metro, they had cordoned off the small area and had a machine cleaning the floor. Unless every second train springs a leak and every station has leaks all over, it may be a tad unfair to sensationalise and term it a spectacular failure of the system.

But what worries me more are some of the other issues on the Mumbai Metro. One is security, where armed security personnel carry guns that should be in museums.

And during peak hour, I’ve noticed that in busy stations like Andheri, the baggage scanners are simply not used, with personnel under high stress and desperate to clear the massive crowds queuing up to enter. That makes claims of world-class security highly suspect.

And then there are the display systems. In at least half of the Mumbai Metro rides I have taken so far, train information systems were on the blink and if you were busy in conversation, you wouldn’t know which station was approaching. Here’s a video (see above) of one such occurrence. In a closed coach environment, it is important that passengers have access to information on where they are.

Announcements about upcoming stations also seem to be barely audible (when systems are not on the blink that is), which again could be a problem during an emergency.

So while we poke some fun at Mumbai Metro over one leak and perhaps make a mountain of a molehill —even though the Mumbai Metro can’t say they are not fair game because they’ve had these trains around for nearly four years and should have mastered maintenance by now--let’s not forget the far more important issues of security and reliability of the information systems. Let the leaking coach issue and the media attention serve as a warning that there will be hell to pay if something goes really wrong with the Mumbai Metro.

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Updated Date: Jul 03, 2014 16:24:17 IST