What was The Real Story Behind ‘The Railway Men’

true story behind the railway men

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Similar to HBO’s Chernobyl and Netflix’s The Days, Shiv Rawail’s The Railway Men – The Untold Story of Bhopal 1984 on Netflix portrays the chilling Bhopal Gas Tragedy of 1984, recognized as the world’s worst industrial disaster. The series draws inspiration from the real-life bravery of railway workers who, on December 2, 1984, courageously collaborated to save lives during the deadly methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas leak from the Union Carbide pesticide plant. This true story unfolds as a heroic account of ordinary citizens rescuing Bhopal residents on a grim night when safety seemed elusive.

The Railway Men commences on the day of the tragedy, just before the onset of the gas leak. In the early segments of this four-episode limited series, attention is centered on a handful of characters, largely based on real-life figures, crucially involved in the subsequent rescue operations post-tragedy. In addition to portraying the rescue efforts, the series delves into the negligence of Union Carbide officials, which initiated the crisis, and the authorities’ response that exacerbated the situation.

Preventable Circumstances Surrounding the Bhopal Gas Tragedy

Prior to the extensive gas leak in 1984, precursor events had sounded alarms. Sunny Hinduja’s portrayal of Jagmohan Kumawat, inspired by real-life journalist Rajkumar Keswani, echoed warnings highlighted by The New York Times about the impending disaster within the Union Carbide plant. The Railway Men illustrates Jagmohan’s investigation into safety lapses that led to a worker’s death three years earlier. Babil Khan, son of Irrfan Khan, depicts Imad Riaz in the series—a former Union Carbide worker, now a new loco pilot at Bhopal junction railway station, and a friend of Mohammad Ansari, the worker who perished in 1981. In reality, as reported by The Washington Post, a worker named Mohammad Ashraf did indeed die in 1981 due to phosgene exposure while cleaning a MIC unit. The Railway Men mirrors the worker’s earlier concerns about the faulty equipment he was assigned.

At the Bhopal Union Carbide India Limited facility, three liquid MIC storage tanks utilized nitrogen gas for containment of the hazardous chemical. One of these tanks, E610, underwent maintenance in October 1984 due to its inability to retain nitrogen gas effectively. According to findings by The New York Times, a leak was discovered by workers on December 2, 1984, at 11:30 p.m. However, the response was delayed as the initial assumption was that the leak was a mere water leak. It was during an attempt by an untrained worker to clean an improperly sealed pipe that the MIC in E610 came into contact with water, triggering a chain reaction that increased tank pressure. When employees returned from a tea break, the pressure had surged uncontrollably. A crack in the concrete slab over the tank subsequently led to the atmospheric venting of 40 tonnes of toxic MIC gas, as reported by The Hindu.

It is crucial to highlight that, aside from the challenges posed by untrained staff, the safety equipment at the facility was inadequate to detect leakages and implement preventive measures effectively. Most safety measures relied on the limited staff stationed at the plant, contributing to the inability to promptly identify and address the unfolding crisis.

The Fallout of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy

The failure in preventing the gas leak persisted even after its identification, reminiscent of the portrayal in The Railway Men. Ingrid Eckerman’s 2004 book “The Bhopal Saga” details instances where local police contacted the Union Carbide plant multiple times upon receiving reports of people evacuating their homes. The plant workers, however, consistently reassured them that the gas leak did not originate from the Union Carbide facility. Events depicted in The Railway Men parallel this, with even the District Magistrate receiving a similar account from the manager at the time.

It wasn’t until 3:00 a.m. that Union Carbide officials confirmed the leak had been plugged, but by then, the first fatalities had already been reported. The immediate victims were predominantly the local population residing around the plant, with 3,800 reported deaths within the initial days, according to WION. Although official figures remain contentious, The Guardian estimates that around 574,000 individuals were impacted by the toxic gas. Even after almost four decades, the catastrophe continues to affect lives, with victims exposed to the gas displaying a 28% higher mortality rate than the average population.

Certainly, the casualty count would have been significantly higher if not for the efforts of individuals like Ghulam Dastagir, portrayed by KK Menon as the deputy station master at Bhopal junction in The Railway Men. Although the miniseries depicts Menon’s character as the station master, in reality, Dastagir held the position of deputy station master, as reported by BBC. Dastagir encountered the effects of the gas leak at 1:00 a.m., at which point people had already begun rushing to the station to flee the city. Reacting swiftly, Dastagir ensured the early departure of the Gorakhpur Express to minimize exposure to the lethal gas in the city. Additionally, he alerted senior officials and nearby stations, resulting in the immediate halting of all trains heading towards the station to prevent further casualties. The deputy station master’s actions played a crucial role in facilitating prompt assistance from paramedics and doctors.

While The Railway Men takes creative liberties in drawing inspiration from real-life events and individuals present in Bhopal at the time, it presents a fictionalized version of the events. Some characters, like those portrayed by Babil Khan and Divyendu Sharma (playing the role of a station locker-robbing bandit), are products of imagination. However, others directly draw inspiration from the courageous citizens of Bhopal who endeavored to mitigate the impact of an otherwise catastrophic human tragedy caused by human error.


In conclusion, the narrative surrounding the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, as depicted in Shiv Rawail’s The Railway Men and detailed in various accounts, unveils a tragic chapter marked by human negligence and heroism. The series, drawing parallels with real-life events, sheds light on the catastrophic consequences of the gas leak and the subsequent efforts of ordinary individuals to mitigate its impact. The Bhopal disaster, a culmination of lapses in safety measures and delayed responses, left a lasting impact on countless lives. The recounting of the tragedy, both in the series and historical records, serves as a reminder of the importance of vigilance and accountability in preventing such devastating incidents in the future.



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