Chennai: The first news that came in about a mishap at the Chennai Metro construction site in Vadapalani on Thursday was that a pillar had collapsed. Traffic had come to a standstill for a short while, preventing newspersons or emergency services to reach the spot. The short period of chaos immediately conjured up memories of the confusion surrounding similar incidents during the construction work for the Delhi Metro. A short while after information first came in about the crash at Vadapalani, it became clear that Chennai Metro was fortunate indeed as none had been injured and that it was a concrete scaffolding that had fallen and not a pillar.
The Delhi Metro, however, was not as lucky as its Chennai counterpart. In its very first mishap, the Delhi Metro claimed a life. A crane operator died when a concrete block fell on him on August 28, 2007. Worse, lives were lost in six of the eight accidents at Delhi Metro construction sites. In two of these incidents, concrete blocks fell on passing traffic, killing civilians.
The biggest and most embarrassing accident for Delhi Metro however, was when a massive iron overbridge used to place prefabricated concrete units along the elevated section of the track collapsed in Zamrudpur around 5am on July 12, 2009. Five were killed and 15 injured in this accident. To make matters worse, the next morning, one of the three cranes lifting the wreckage collapsed under the weight of the overbridge. The crane’s arm fell on nearby buildings, triggering a stampede.
Delhi Metro was not as lucky as its Chennai counterpart. In its first mishap, Delhi Metro claimed one life.
Delhi Metro Rail Corporation E Sreedharan, who was looked at by Delhiites as a hero, took moral responsibility for the mishap and resigned. He said he did not want the project to get delayed because officials would be axed for the mishap, and offered to resign in order to protect his team. Following an outcry, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit rejected Sreedharan’s resignation. Sreedharan, who had earlier headed the construction of the ‘impossible’ Konkan Railway, came out of the ordeal a much bigger darling of Delhi than he was before.
Chennai Metro does not face the Himalayan expectations that the Delhi Metro met with. The Delhi Metro’s public relations were of top class, with DMRC officials holding regular meetings with locals to iron out issues, and selling the dream of a world-class public transport system. The DMRC public relations team also remained very accessible to the media, freely circulating information about mishaps and clearing the air of rumours.
Now that Chennai Metro has had its first mishap, it remains to be seen whether it can step up to the challenge of staying on the good side of Chennai residents. After all, Chennai residents are less likely to be as charitable to their Metro project as the Delhiites, considering Chennai’s public transport infrastructure is touted to be more comprehensive than Delhi’s.