Feb 25, 2008
As Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav, the honourable Railway Minister of the Union Government is all set to present the Railway Budget in the Lok Sabha during the budget session In the last week of February, millions of people who use Indian Railways as the chief mode of transport especially the Mumbai Suburban Train (Local Train) commuters are hopeful that the Railway Minister will provide them a better deal in terms of improved service with increased frequency and enhanced speed and safety. There is a strong feeling among the millions of people using the Suburban Railway Network that the Railway Minister had been giving them ‘step-motherly’ treatment by not paying enough attention to improve the Local Train services.
The Mumbai Suburban Rail Network commonly referred to as Local Trains, is virtually the life line of the city of Mumbai. Being one of the most congested cities in the world, Local Trains are the chief mode of travel for most people, especially belonging to middle and lower classes. However, it is besieged with a number of dangers.
The extensive commercialization and the high land value in South Mumbai have led to the growth of satellite townships along the railway lines. As a result millions of people have to commute daily to and from South Mumbai from distant residential townships.
The Suburban Railway Network in Mumbai is one of the most complex and intensively utilized public transport systems in the world. It is also the oldest railway system in Asia. The British built the first railway line in India in 1853 between Mumbai and Thane, a distance of 34 kilometers.
The history of the EMU (Electric Multiple Units) service or Local Trains in Bombay dates back to 1927. The first EMU service ran between Victoria Terminus (VT) now renamed as Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) and Kurla. The EMU consisted of one motor rake followed by 4 coaches. At that time wood was extensively used for the fabrication of the coaches.
With the growth of urbanization and development of trade and commerce, Mumbai emerged as an important commercial and financial centre in Western India. As suburbs began to expand the railway system also had to keep pace. Gradually, the Suburban Railway Network System developed into three important segments: the Western Line, the Central Main Line and the Harbour Line.
As Mumbai is a linear city, the Western Line extends from Churchgate to Virar via Mumbai's Western Suburbs. The Central Main Line runs from Mumbai CST to Kalyan through Mumbai's Central Suburbs and Thane. From Kalyan, the Central Main Line bifurcates, one proceeding towards Karjat and further to Kopoli and the other to Kasara. There are 35 stations each between CST and Karjat as well as Kasara.
The Harbour Line is operated as the subsidiary of the Central Railway. One branch of the Harbour line runs up to Andheri via Mahim-Bandra and the other branch proceed to Panvel through Kurla and Vashi (Navi Mumbai). A new branch operates from Thane to Vashi. All the Harbour Line Locals are slow, where as on the Western and Central Main Lines many fast trains operate.
The Mumbai Suburban Railway Network is spread over an expanse of 319 route kilometers. This network collectively utilizes 191 rakes (both 9-car and 12-car trains) running a total of 2226 services. The Local Train services operate between 4 am in the morning up to 1.30 am past mid-night.
Those people residing in townships at the end of the Suburban Railway Network spend as many as five to six hours commuting to and from Mumbai. During the so called office or rush hours between 8:30 am and 10:30 am towards CST and Churchgate and between 5:30 pm and 8:30 pm in the opposite direction, boarding a Local Train even at the starting point is a Herculean task as commuters rush in to take available seats, failing that to have a safe standing place in between the rows of seats and passages. Boarding such a crowded train in the following stations is a risky task. Elderly people and children usually avoid travelling by the locals during this period.
Mumbai’s Suburban Railway Network–Western, Central Main and Harbour Lines transport about 6.5 million people every day. It has the highest passenger density of any urban railway network in the world. Around 4,500 to 5,000 commuters are packed into a 9-car rake during peak hours as against the official carrying capacity of 1,700. It works out to be a density of 14 to 16 standing passengers per square meter of floor space. The overcrowding of the trains is so much that people cannot even find enough floor space to place their feet. Commuters are literally squeezed in the compartments like sardines, making it hard to breathe, especially when it is hot in summer.
It is a common sight during the peak-hours of people travelling on the footboard hanging out precariously. People are also seen travelling on the rooftops and standing on the window bars to commute to their destinations. Such hazardous journey many times results in tragic accidents. Annually over 3,500 people lose their lives due to railways related accidents in Mumbai.
Invariably regular fights breakout in over-crowded compartments. Any frivolous reason such as jostling, pushing, stepping on one’s foot etc. lead to verbal duel and sometimes followed by physical violence. There had been instances of commuters being pushed out of running trains following such fights. As many commuters have their own ‘train groups’ (gangs), many a times individual commuters are being intimidated into humiliating silence even though they are not wrong.
Another common practice commonly adopted by the so called ‘train groups’ is blocking one side of the entrance during peak hours which creates a bottleneck in the other half causing innumerable hardships to the commuters getting out as well as getting in at crowded stations such as Dadar.
The struggling commuters not only have to maintain their physical and mental balance in over-crowded trains during the peak hours but also have to guard their valets, cell-phones, gold chains and other valuables from the lurking pick-pocketers who are difficult to identify. During late hours when the trains are practically empty, women as well as men commuters especially in the first class compartments have to guard themselves against stalkers and muggers.
Besides the human related problems, the Local Trains and the suburban commuters have to face the nature’s fury during the rainy season. During heavy rains the tracks in the low lying areas such as Vidyavihar-Kurla-Sion belt in the Central Main Line and various points on Western Line get submerged which results in the suspension of services till the floods recede.
During the monsoon the commuters not only face delay but also cancellation of services grounding them either at their offices, railway stations or homes. The memory of July floods of the year 2005 and its aftermath is not easy to be erased from the minds of the suburban commuters especially on Central Main Line. As the railway tracks were washed out at many places, the restoration of the tracks and regular services took quite a long time causing immense inconvenience to the commuters.
Of late, the Suburban Railway Network has become the soft target for terrorists. The memory of a series of seven bomb blasts in Local Trains on Western Line on 11 July 2006 is still fresh in the minds of the Mumbaikars. These blasts killed 207 and wounded 714 innocent commuters during evening peak hours.
Though the terrorists planned to cause maximum bloodbath on the tracks, terrorize the Local Train commuters and break the spirit of ‘Mumbaikars’, they failed in their mission as Mumbaikars showed exemplary cooperative spirit. Following the blasts Mumbaikars joined hands in helping to transport the victims of the bomb-blasts to various hospitals and rendering whatever assistance they could to the authorities. The resilience of the Mumbaikars was evident when the regular Local Train services resumed the very next day and the commuters braved all the odds to resume their regular activities.
In spite of being over-crowded, uncomfortable and besieged with many uncertainties and dangers, people still prefer the Local Trains. Compared to the road transport system commuting by the Local Trains is quicker, safer and cheaper.
In order to meet the demand of the ever-growing passenger traffic, the Ministry of Railways and the Government of Maharashtra have jointly set up ‘The Mumbai Railway Vikas Corporation Ltd.’ (MRVC) which was incorporated in July 1999, to implement the Railway work of Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP). Its aim is ‘to develop world-class infrastructure for an efficient, safe and sustainable Railway system in Mumbai suburban section to provide comfortable and friendly train services to the commuters’. Mumbaikars are hope and pray that this vision of MRVC is translated into reality in their lifetime.
Now, a piece of good news. As this article was being written, Chief Minister of Maharshtra Vilasrao Deshmukh flagged off the first new generation Suburban Train from CST on 21st February 2008 at 3 pm. This single rake will add 12 new up and down services between CST and Dombivli. On the Western Line there are a few new age rakes on trial run.
As Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav gives final touches to his railway budget, the Mumbai Local Train commuters eagerly look forward for better travelling days ahead. The Railway Minister may mercifully spare the commuters from increased fare. However, they expect much more from the Railway Minister. The wish-list of the Mumbai Suburban Train commuters is as follows:
Conversion of all 9-car trains into 12-car trains; increase in the frequency of services; completion of bridges at Kalyan and Dombivli stations and construction of similar bridges at crowded stations; proper maintenance of coupon validating machines; cleanliness and sanitation at railway platforms; hygiene in railway canteens; arrangement for prompt hospitalization of accident victims; additional trains for women commuters during peak hours; proper communication system within the rakes in case of emergency; additional security to prevent molestation, dacoity, pick-pocketing or chain snatching in the trains; better maintenance of the tracks and increase in the speed of trains; completion of the six lane corridor between Kurla and Kalyan; and introduction of the ‘new age’ rakes as early as possible.
Railway Mantriji are you listening?
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