Time to overhaul Mumbai’s suburban railway system

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Mumbai is known as the financial capital of India and thousands arrive in the metropolis in search of livelihood. Rampant migration to Mumbai from other parts of the country has put immense pressure on the city’s infrastructure. Mumbai’s suburban trains which are known as the life lines of the city are bursting at seams. On an average, local trains carry 7.5 million passengers daily exceeding 2.6 times their capacity. Since last 66 years passenger load of the city’s suburban system had grown by more than eight times while capacity of trains increased about three times. Thus, the city’s transportation system has failed to keep pace with its growing population.

During the morning and evening peak hours, platforms remain overcrowded as commuters anxiously wait for the arrival of trains. After the train reaches the platform, passengers try to enter the compartments by jumping inside. While those standing on the platforms, try to push each other to make their way into the coach. By then it is already overcrowded as passengers have to jostle for space inside the compartment. Many people struggle to find space inside trains and people even adjust themselves by occupying the fourth seat. Commuters fight for seats in the compartment as many of them have formed their own group and reserve seats for their companion thereby deterring others to sit on those seats. Many of them merely manage to stand in the compartment and start arguing with fellow passengers for space. Early morning quarrel is a norm in suburban trains.

Commuters also have to face immense difficulties while alighting from the train. They form queues and ask their fellow passengers whether they will be alighting at the upcoming station. Many others stand near the doors thereby blocking the entrance of the compartment. Even before commuters can get down from the train many others try to enter inside the compartment as some of them even fall on the platforms while alighting. Those who don’t alight from the train are pushed by rear passengers as they make their way to platforms. Thus early morning travel can be a horrible experience for commuters especially those who are new to the city.

Since commuters are staying in far flung places like Vasai, Virar, Kalyan, Dombivli and Badlapur, they have to rely on suburban trains for commuting to south Mumbai. Often they have to face huge inconvenience when accident and signal failure occurs thereby resulting in delay of trains. As a result of this, platforms become overcrowded with commuters. Those staying in distant suburbs have to travel for two to three hours to reach their destination. At least nine commuters die after falling from overcrowded local trains. Activists have filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) with the Bombay High Court to raise their concern about safe travelling in trains. The high court had then asked railways to start emergency medical rooms to treat passengers falling from trains. Often commuters die as they don’t receive medical aid during the golden hour. The state government has announced several plans to develop railway infrastructure but most of them remain restricted on paper due to bureaucratic hurdles and financial constraints. Even the announcements made by the Railway Minister to strengthen railway network are not implemented. Thus steps need to be taken to augment suburban railway system to ease the woes of Mumbaikars.

(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)

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