Tale of 2 sets of passengers on a rainy night in Mumbai

A SpiceJet aircraft is surrounded by airport staff as it stands stranded off the tarmac at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport in Mumbai on July 2, 2019, after it overran the runway while landing during heavy rain, causing no injuries. AFP p

A plane overshot the main runway at the Mumbai airport amid heavy rain on the intervening night of Monday and Tuesday, and the news hogged much attention as the city reeled under heavy rains.

While the passengers and the crew were not hurt, there was another set of passengers - the lesser mortals who travel by local trains - who were stranded through that very night, and their ordeal went largely unnoticed.

I and a fellow PTI journalist started home from the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, boarding a Khopoli-bound train on the Central line, expecting a leisurely journey after covering rain-related stories all day.

The 10.28 pm train started ten minutes late but then chugged along smoothly till we reached Kurla, 15 km away, a halfway mark from our destination Thane, as the rain pounded the tracks steadily.

About 11.15 pm, it came to a halt between Kurla and Vidyavihar. We didn't think much of it, as the trains usually slow down along this stretch.

Little did we know that we were at the end of our (train) journey, so to say as there was no movement for the next two hours.

There was no announcement on the train's PA system, and social media handles of the Central Railway were silent.

Updates kept coming from other news sources, including Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp messages of friends and fellow journalists.

The more crucial news was that we were not alone - the trains had "bunched up" on the track behind and ahead of us.

However, the thousands of passengers in stranded trains, most of them making the journey to their homes in far-flung northern suburbs like every evening, were less lucky compared to the 167 passengers on board the flight which overshot the runway.

There were no air hostesses and stewards to bring us food, water and the news of when the journey would resume.

Mercifully, the lights inside the train compartment were on.

We were updated minute-by-minute about Mumbai-bound flights being diverted to other cities, but no information was forthcoming from the Railways.

Trains getting stuck is nothing new for Mumbaikars, and the normal course of action in such cases is getting down on the tracks and trudge along towards the nearest station.

But it was dark outside barring the occasional flash of lightning and the tracks were under water. And there was no "cabin crew" to explain what to do after `landing' on water.

We found out, thanks to social media, that some journalist friends were on the train behind us. Banter flowed on WhatsApp, in keeping with the so-called `spirit of Mumbai'.

Around 12.40 am, the Twitter handle of Central Railway came to life. We were enlightened that owing to "nature's fury", services have been suspended as a safety measure. There was no word on how they planned to help the passengers.

We decided to get down, help three women journalists who were in neighbouring trains to get out and walk.

Most other passengers were oblivious that the services were not going to resume. It fell to us media to convey the bad tidings, and help others, including a dozen women, to alight on the terra firma.

Police guards in women's compartments were mostly unhelpful, barring a few like home guard Kapil Ahire who did his best to assist the passengers.

Five of us walked down the track in knee-deep water, passing train after stranded train with commuters with resigned faces, and reached Vidyavihar station.

On the road, an SUV pulled up by our side. Vishal Bhanushali and his wife, who were ferrying people like us through the night, dropped us on the Eastern Express highway.

We reached home at around 4 am. The latest news then was that the aircraft passengers were yet to come out of the terminal because of baggage-related issues. They had our sympathies. 

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