Mumbai’s highly-efficient suburban rail network is its lifeline

May 4th, 2010 - 6:09 pm ICT by IANS  

Rahul Gandhi Mumbai, May 4 (IANS) It carries a sea of humanity - over seven million commuters - to and fro daily. Mumbai’s suburban rail network, the city’s lifeline which is used by people come floods, terror attacks, or accidents, has been paralysed since Monday evening due to a strike by train drivers.
The suburban network is not just the lifeline of Mumbai, but for the rest of Maharashtra. A small blockade at any one point results in the entire network getting disturbed or clogged - and the effects last for several hours.

The strike by a mere 800 train drivers - or motormen as they are locally known - since Monday evening has left the highly-efficient network paralysed.

The strike has thrown the country’s commercial capital into complete chaos, and the issue reverberated in parliament Tuesday.

The suburban network continues to remain the most preferred mode of commuting in Mumbai - from commoners to celebs. Even Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi preferred to travel by a suburban train in February this year.

The suburban section of Mumbai which connects the island city with far flung areas of Thane and Raigad districts, carries over seven million commuters to and fro daily - or almost the equivalent of Switzerland’s total population!

As per one estimate, more than 10 commuters are crammed into one square metre of train space - worse than sardines!

A majority of people commute to and fro daily to earn a living and fend for themselves and families, officials of both the central and western railway networks criss-crossing the city told IANS.

While the Western Railway carries around 3.5 million commuters daily, the Central Railway carries a little over 3.5 million daily. “Plus a small number that may travel ticketless, of which no estimates are available,” an official said.

The two railway networks together account for 2,704 daily train services. The trains, with nine, 12 or 15 coaches, help transport the people from one end to another, twice daily, with clockwork precision.

A railway official said that some years ago a top railway expert from the International Union of Railways had visited the WR headquarters at Churchgate. He volunteered to offer a few tips on how to improve the passenger discharge system and optimize the services under the given constraints.

Nodding in agreement, the visiting dignitary was invited to view the existing system from a small viewers’ gallery on the WR headquarters building the next morning during the peak hour.

The visiting dignitary came, saw and was rendered speechless.

Later, he told railway officials that he had nothing better to offer and WR was already doing an outstanding job!

At another time, a lady tourism minister of South Africa spent sometime only standing on the parapet wall at Nariman Point, south Mumbai.

The reason? She had never seen so many people at one go in her entire life! She was thrilled to see such a huge number of people going about their normal routine in a disciplined manner.

Incidentally, the development of Mumbai has been synonymous with the development of the railways network.

“People prefer to buy homes close to the railway stations. Here property prices are determined by access to the nearest railway station,” explained a realtor Pagur Desai from Vile Parle.

The country’s first railway line started here April 16, 1853 connecting Mumbai Victoria Terminus (now, CST) with Thane - a distance of around 32 km. Nearly 16 decades later, that single historic railway line has become the city’s sole lifeline.

Over the past more than 157 years, the ancient wooden coaches gave way to metal ones. Now high-speed coaches are being imported to cater to the ever-increasing traffic demands.

Earlier, they were single-coach trains hauled by an engine. Now they have developed into 12-coach and 15-coach trains.

The travel conditions are far from human. Each train, equipped to carry 1,200 commuters, actually takes up to 6,000 commuters - putting severe pressures on all fronts.

And the trains chug on, irrespective of floods, terror attacks, accidents, delays, derailments, fires.

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