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Time to reconstruct India- Mumbai Local trains
October 26th 2008
There are also simple solutions to give relief to people – Why Railways do not implement them?
Last Thursday, I took a Virar local train in Mumbai to go to a distant suburban station Bhynder from Churchgate. It was a horrible experience. Every time you travel in a Mumbai local train, you get the feeling that they have become more horrible. Some body said correctly “you may go through hell every day, अपनी सरकार के कनों में तो जु भी नहीं रेंगती (our government knows only sleeping)”.
We live now in Churchgate area. But earlier for many years, I lived in Western suburbs, near Andheri. So I am quite used to crowds of Mumbai trains.
Some years back I used to spend an hour of traveling time each way, thinking Mathematics and Physics problems etc. I have got some of my best research ideas, while traveling in local trains. I have matched this experience with several others. Somehow movement and loneliness of traveling helps you to think deeply. One of my American friends told me that he has got in a similar way his best ideas, while driving alone with speeds of 55-60 miles an hour, on interstate highways. Though, I have never tried while driving. That can be dangerous. But in most of USA, one does not have much of a choice.
Now a days, trains are so crowded in Mumbai, that one can not think much, you just want to get the time over and get out. It does not matter, whether you are in first class or second class, both look the same. General compartment in both the classes is so crowded from 6 am to 11 pm that, one can practically hear heartbeats, respiration of passengers near you. You have no choice but to get odor of their perspiration. A lady traveling in general compartment finds it hard to save her body from being touched by males. Even if males try to accommodate her, there is no space. Ladies have to further suffer staring by a whole lot of males. So even if you are traveling with your wife/girl-friend, most of the time girls/ladies prefer to travel in ladies compartment. It is indeed credit to peace loving nature of Indians that there are not much fights or riots, despite such a horrible state of affairs. Often when two passengers start having even some verbal dual, most other passengers stop them, with Mumbaia Hindi expressions, “कयको लड़ता है, थोड़ा सा देर की बात है. तेरेकू भी जाना है उसको भी” (why are you fighting – any way he has to go, so do you”.
When I lived in Western suburbs, I made some scientists from USA-Europe also to travel in train from Malad to Churchgate. I remember some comments, quite different from the way we will think of things. One of them standing in that horrible crowd was saying “these trains must be pleasure for a homosexual”. Another one told me that he could not hold pressure on his chest and heart. He got out at Dadar, waited for some time till he gathered enough courage again to get back.
For last 30-40 years the rail and government authorities have been drawing big schemes of making new metro rails, underground rails and all sort of exotic things, but have not implemented any thing. Now, again there are announcements of many new schemes. We do need some of these metros to cover the whole city. I am hopeful this time, at least some of them will see the day of light. At least for one, contract has been already given to Anil Ambani’s Reliance. Hopefully these large corporate will behave much better than government.
Often, while traveling in these trains, facing inhuman crowds, instead of Mathematics and Physics, I have wondered about improving train services. A lot more can be done by railways to reduce the hardships, without much expenditure. I am sure Indian rail ministers, MP’s, rail managers; chief ministers must have been presented such ideas several times. I do not see any reason why they have not done any thing. Let me share some of my analysis with you.
During last 50 years the population of Mumbai has increased more than 10 times. The numbers of people who use trains have multiplied even more. Has any thing been done to handle this extra crowd, except for increasing a few trains here and there?
Most people use two main lines, Western Railway “Virar/Borivali – Churchgate” and Central Railway “Kalyan-CST(Old name VT/Boribandar)”.
How many extra new tracks have been created? Between Borivali and Mumbai Central, 50 years back there used to be 4 rail tracks, so were between CST and Thane. Even now practically the situation is the same. Only recently I hear that plans have been made to increase it to six active tracks in some parts.
How many new stations were created in last 50 years? Not a single station in Western rail section and just two three stations in Central railway main line Kalyan- CST section?
Is it any wonder that there are chaos and inhuman conditions? Result of this inaction is that not only the stations and trains are horribly crowded but every one is forced to take the same approaching road which were created for handling 5% of today’s crowd. As a result not just the stations, but whole areas near the stations have become extremely crowded, filthy, dirty and polluted. Once you accept such a filthy situation in one corner, it does not stop. Now the whole city looks the same.
Forty years back people used to stand in Q for catching a BEST bus and conductors used to count how many seats or standing places are vacant and allowed only that many passengers to get in. There used to be big footpaths in many parts of the city. Most streets used to be free from garbage. Today all this, which is taken for granted in most parts of world, looks like distant, unbelievable dream in Mumbai.
I have traveled in trains in many different parts of world, New York, Toronto, Chicago, London, Budapest, Frankfurt, Paris, Tokyo, just to name a few. Nowhere, I have seen stations so far apart as in Mumbai. Generally walking distance between two stations is not more than 10 minutes of walk. In Mumbai this is not satisfied even if you consider the main downtown stations Churchgate and Marinelines.
With this rough criterion there is a need to create between almost all stations on these two lines at least 3 more stations. There may be very little expenditure involved to do this. If the railways do this in a coordinated manner with Mumbai metropolitan authorities, both of them can earn a lot, from the property development around it. The money generated, can be used to buy more coaches needed and improve infrastructure.
The trains will then require halting much more which may increase total time taken for journey. But this can be handled with some simple changes. Just now compared to international standards, our trains do seem to run quite slowly. One reason is that huge crowds near the stations have to be taken care of. Two tracks can be used just to run very fast trains halting only on junctions, as is done now also. The other two tracks can be used to run just slow trains. Most of the slow trains should run only in between two junctions. This may reduce the need to change the tracks by trains. While people may have to change trains at the junction stations much more. But the reduction of need for changing tracks can be used to reduce the time interval between two fast or slow trains. At present time interval between two trains is 4-6 minutes. That can be brought down to 1.5 minutes with automization etc. and since long distance people will used fast trains only, the time of journey may remain over all the same. Actually with increase in speeds, it can be reduced quite a bit.
Infrastructure at junction stations will have to be improved considerably to handle extra crowds. Another necessary change required is to improve over bridges very much. Each station should have 4-5 of them in place of 1-2 at present. Junction stations should have even more. There should be escalators on all bridges. With escalators, crossing of tracks by passengers will reduce considerably.
Most of these ideas can be implemented easily in self financing manner. Railways should give contracts and management of such expansions etc. to private corporate and rail divisions themselves also should run in a corporate like fashion with accountability. Though, government agencies have to be involved as main regulating and/or financing bodies.
This article is just beginning. Many Mumbaikars must have similar ideas, which can be implemented easily. There are several interesting websites also on local train systems in Mumbai. I wonder, is there some way we can wake up authorities involved to do some thing on urgent basis. I do plan to write more on Mumbai. Actually our whole country needs a time bound reconstruction phase. I do plan to write hubs on mine and other’s ideas about it regularly. Looking forward to some of the ideas from others too, via this hub.