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In Mumbai, A Safety Campaign For The World's Deadliest Rail System


To India now, and Mumbai, where the trains carry 8 million commuters a day. They're the city's lifeline. They also claim a lot of lives. On average, eight people die on Mumbai's railway every day. NPR's Mumbai producer Sushmita Pathak boarded a local train to find out why.

SUSHMITA PATHAK, BYLINE: It's the evening rush hour, so the platform is just packed with people. I'm just preparing myself mentally. There's going to be a lot of pushing. Deep breath - let's do this. Oh, that woman just almost fell down.

DEVKI MARATHE: Eventually, you get that train fighting instinct.

PATHAK: Twenty-five-year-old Devki Marathe commutes on this train every day.

MARATHE: People end up pushing each other, hurting each other. I know people who've got fractures because of that.

PATHAK: A fracture as in broken bones - every year, nearly 3,000 people die on these above-ground trains that criss-cross the city. Roughly that many also get injured. The majority either fall from overcrowded trains or get hit by one. That's what happened to Samir Zaveri 30 years ago. He was at a station in northern Mumbai. There was no footbridge, so he tried to walk across the tracks. It was dark and raining. He slipped, and a train hit him. He lost both his legs. Now commuter safety is his life's mission.

SAMIR ZAVERI: Yeah, this is my life mission - to prevent the accidents and almost make zero death. There are easy solutions.

PATHAK: Easy solutions like having paramedics at stations - Zaveri took the city to court, and in 2011, commuters got their first station clinic. Now they're at nearly 20 Mumbai stations.

RAHUL GHULE: We have all this medicine...

PATHAK: Dr. Rahul Ghule runs one such facility at Thane station in eastern Mumbai. Patients get instant treatment rather than getting stuck in traffic on the way to a hospital. The first hour after an accident is critical, he says. It's called the golden hour.

GHULE: If we get the patients in golden hour, we can save him, and we have saved others. Many patients, we have saved.

PATHAK: Authorities say by the end of this year, dozens more clinics will open. They're also adding more train cars and barriers to block people from crossing the tracks, but railway spokesperson Ravinder Bhakar says in addition to infrastructure, something else needs upgrading, too.

RAVINDER BHAKAR: It's the mentality of the people. Just to save a few moments, they risk their lives, and we need to work on that.

PATHAK: People risk their lives in Mumbai's trains because it's the cheapest option. A typical journey costs 14 cents.

SUSHEELA MEHTA: (Speaking Hindi).

PATHAK: Commuter Susheela Mehta says she can't afford an Uber or taxi or even a rickshaw, so she gets jostled every day on this train. She says it's risky, but for those of us who live in India's fast-paced financial capital, you've got to take risks. The city has nearly 25 million people, and many of its residents believe that if you don't push, you will get pushed. That's life in Mumbai and on its local trains.

For NPR News, I'm Sushmita Pathak on a local train in Mumbai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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