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Metro accident site hit by new crash

THREE cranes crashed today while trying to lift a collapsed steel girder at New Delhi's metro rail construction site, dealing a new blow to the prestigious project a day after its worst-ever accident left six people dead.

A Delhi Metro spokesman refuted reports that people had been injured in the latest accident.

The truck-mounted cranes had lifted the massive orange girder off the ground when they buckled under the weight. Live television pictures showed the crane arms shearing off the multi-wheeled trucks, one of which ended up in a vertical position.

The truck ended up resting on its nose with the underbelly in the air, exposing its wheels. The crane's arms lay flattened and mangled. Parts of the truck could be seen falling off the upended machine. People ran helter-skelter.

Joint Commissioner of Police Ajay Kashyap told reporters that four cranes were trying to lift the 300-ton girder when one of them malfunctioned. The other three cranes couldn't handle the weight and buckled, he said.

It was not clear how many operators were in the cabins of the three cranes.

"There have been no injuries to anybody. Some TV channels have been flashing four injuries or six injuries. But I am confirming there have been no injuries," said Delhi Metro spokesman Aunj Dayal.

The accident happened on the southern line being constructed for the New Delhi Metro system, which already has three operational lines.

The metro is the pride of the city of 14 million, where commuters were long forced to rely on rickshaws, motorcycles or smoke-belching buses.

Sunday's accident occurred on a particularly tricky section, where a metal cantilever was being raised to lift a 300-ton prefabricated concrete segment of the bridge, Delhi Metro Rail Corp. chief E. Sreedharan told reporters.

The entire structure tumbled down in a V-shaped pile, crushing workers underneath. Six people were killed and 13 injured. Metro spokesman Anuj Dayal said it appears cracks had developed on a pillar cap, which caused a section of the bridge to be displaced.

New Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit today appointed a four-member expert panel, comprising two engineering professors and two top metro officials. They have been asked to submit a report within 10 days.

She also rejected the resignation offered by Sreedharan, who inspected the accident site today hours before the latest crane collapse.

Overnight rains hampered debris-clearing operations. The tons of steel and concrete dumped on the ground ruptured water pipelines and disrupted traffic on the normally busy road.

Sreedharan has been hailed as a modern-day hero for his integrity in making the metro rail a reality. Its first line opened on schedule about seven years ago - an almost unheard-of feat in India, where corruption-related overruns, shoddy construction and lax safety standards are common.

"I do not think we should blow this incident out of all proportions. Sreedharan should get unqualified compliments for the work" he has done so far, Urban Development Minister S. Jaipal Reddy said.

Authorities are rushing to complete the metro system ahead of the 2010 Commonwealth Games, but Reddy said the government will "never compromise the quality of work just for the sake" of the games.

He said work on the southern line would be delayed by three months but that the project will meet its deadline.

"Our concern for the Commonwealth games will not be allowed to compromise the quality," he said in Parliament,

In October last year, two people were killed and at least 11 injured in a similar accident at a metro construction site. Four more workers have been killed in four previous accidents since 2007.

The metro's existing three lines cover a total of 45 miles (75 kilometers). The new lines being built before the Commonwealth Games are supposed to cover about 60 miles (100 kilometers).

Sreedharan said the southern line, where the accident occurred Sunday, would be delayed for at least three months.

The accident caused a damage worth 60 million rupees ($1.25 million), he said.

The highly efficient and clean metro rail system is the third mass urban transport system in the country after Mumbai's commuter rail network dating back to the 19th century and Calcutta's metro that started in 1984.


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