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Test drive of ‘death stretch’ from New Katraj Tunnel to Navale bridge chowk

Using the New Katraj tunnel to Navale bridge chowk stretch has become a risky affair for motorists, two-wheeler riders and pedestrians, as the road is witness to regular mishaps. The main observation cited by road experts is that the road has a long slope where heavy vehicles use the decline to shut down their engine to save fuel which may cause accidents as in many cases the brakes stops to function. On November 29, three persons lost their lives after a heavy vehicle dashed them on the highway near Narhe exit on the service road.

HT conducted a test drive on December 19 (Saturday) in a truck starting from New Katraj tunnel via Narhe service road exit till Navale bridge chowk.

To understand the precautions and safety measures that need to be taken by truck drivers, especially on the slope, we were accompanied by Swapnil Pangare, area sales manager of KGP Auto Ltd, Ghatge Trucking BharatBenz dealer with their heavy truck driver Jamir Shaikh. Both of them explained on how to drive steadily and the things that need to be followed while driving through the slope stretch of the road to avoid accidents.

Test drive

1. At 8.30 am, I along with driver Jamir got into the truck which has a heavy load capacity up to 28 tonnes. We started from Navale bridge chowk towards the new Katraj tunnel

2. While going towards the new Katraj tunnel, Jamir showed some of the important buttons inside the driver cabin which are used to control the vehicle. One such button is called “Constant Throttle Valve” (CTV). It is mainly used to control the engine brakes while the vehicle is on slope. The button was located on the right side of the driver’s steering wheel.

“There are six diesel sprinkling nozzles in the engine. After switching on this button, only one diesel nozzle supply is on and other five remain closed. This step saves diesel and also the vehicle ignition is on and air supply to brakes remains constant. Many trucks do not have this facility, and some drivers do not use it even if the heavy vehicle is fitted with the button,” Pangare said.

3. In 15 minutes we crossed the tunnel and by taking the ‘U’ turn on the highway we started coming back from the tunnel towards the Navale bridge chowk which is the danger stretch that sees accidents.

4. From halfway through the tunnel, the slope on the highway started and the truck gained speed (there is speed limit of 80 kmph on this highway). Jamir said, “There is a speed lock of 50 kmph to the truck and even on the slope if the ignition is on we control the vehicle on first or second gear.”

After the tunnel ended, the slope started towards the Dari Pul bridge and to show the mistake that some drivers commit, Jamir took the vehicle on ‘neutral’ gear. Soon, the speed of the vehicle almost touched 90 kmph

5. Explaining the wrong practise of putting the heavy vehicle on neutral gear, Pangare said, “When a truck driver crosses the tunnel before the Dari Pul bridge, he puts on the neutral gear. Later, when he approaches the Navale bridge, he starts applying brakes as other vehicles also enter the stretch. As the vehicle was in neutral gear, the liners get heated up which leads to brake failure and possible accident. There is a brake control button in every heavy vehicle or truck which should be used by the driver on such slopes, but to save a fuel of around 3 to 4 litres, they do such risky things.”

6. Driving ahead, we crossed the Dari Pul bridge and the ‘death’ stretch or accident-prone slope on the highway started. Jamir took the speeding truck in second gear. He then switched on the CTV button which controls the engine brakes and though in speed the truck was going at 50 kmph on fuel saving mode.

The stretch from new Katraj tunnel to Navale bridge chowk is around 6 to 7 kms and there are several boards on this stretch installed by the Pune traffic police department appealing drivers “not to switch off the engines or put vehicle on neutral”. Rumbler strips are there at a couple of spots, and at some spots potholes were also seen.

7. By around 9.10 am we reached the Narhe service road exit which goes ahead to the Navale bridge chowk. This is the spot where the recent accident claimed three lives. As our vehicle was on control speed, Jamir slowly took the service road and finally our test drive ended at 9.15 am coming back to Navale bridge chowk.

Normally the average mileage of trucks is between 3 and 6 kmpl, and to save fuel on this danger stretch drivers follow the wrong practice of switching off the engine or putting it on neutral gear. But if the engine break control button is used with ignition on, then same amount of fuel is saved along with safely passing through the slope, according to Pangare.

Review

“Overall, the test drive was good and we got a first-hand experience of traveling inside a speeding truck on this ‘death stretch’. It is not so difficult for drivers to control their heavy vehicles by using safety features in their vehicles, but lack of alertness or careless attitude may cause accidents. While going through the slope, we found some speeding heavy vehicles. By controlling the vehicle on gear with the help of engine brake button, one can easily control the speed avoiding any mishap. Some improvement and upgrade in road infrastructure on this stretch by NHAI is needed like repairing potholes, adding more rumbler strips and putting up of more safety sign boards and signals along the service road.”

Mishap count

Accidents happened on this stretch starting from new Katraj Tunnel to Navale Bridge Chowk

Year/Fatal accidents/Serious accidents/Minor accidents/Total

2019/12/02/29/43

2020 (Till Nov)/14/25/09/48

Total /26/27/38/91

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