In my previous post on The Dabbawallahs of Mumbai, I’ve already mentioned about the fast lifestyle of the city that leaves no room to sit and stare and think about where you’re heading. However, to keep that momentum going all the time, without a break you need something that works like clockwork. Yes, in this post I’m going to cover the suburban railway network of Mumbai that certainly is the lifeline of the city. I’ve already written a lot about it, but in a different perspective. This time, I’m focusing on it from a different view highlighting new facts that I’ve never shared before.
Earlier, Bombay (now called Mumbai) was nothing more than an archipelago of seven islands floating close to each other, but it was during the British era that these islands were reclamated and combined together it formed the city that we know today. The current Mumbai Suburban Railway is among the oldest railway systems in Asia and the first train ran between Victoria Terminus (now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) and Thane, a distance of 34 kilometers on 16 April, 1853 at 3:35 p.m. Since then, there has been no looking back as the city of Bombay became the financial, entertainment and economical capital of the country.
Today, the Mumbai Suburban Railway is divided into two major zones; the Western Railways and the Central Railways. It is easy to understand that the Western Railway focuses on the western line of the city, while the Central Railway operates the central line, harbour line and the trans-harbour line. The Western Railway focuses on Churchgate in South Mumbai to north up to Dahanu Road which is a distance of 120 kilometers. The trains are further divided into two categories; slow trains that halt at all stations and fast trains that halt only at important stations. On the central side, there are three major corridors that all start from Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) in the South Mumbai. The first line goes from CST to Kalyan and from there it bifurcates into two lines, one heading towards Kasara towards north-east and the other to Khopoli in the south-east. Although, the Central line and Western line are parallel to each other, there is one common station: Dadar where the two lines meet, so people any person traveling on the Central line can get down and cross the bridge and then use the Western line to travel further and the vice versa. Central Railway also handles the Harbour Line that runs from CST to Andheri on the Western Line and Panvel on the Harbour Line. There are no fast trains on the Harbour Line. The Trans-Harbour Line connects the Navi Mumbai to Thane. So, the Mumbai Suburban Railway functions like a central nervous system criss-crossing across the city connecting different parts of the city with each other, allowing people to move across the city with ease and in short time.
The local trains usually have 9, 12 and 15 coach rakes. Some of the coaches are reserved for ladies only and first-class passengers. The first-class fare is 12 times expensive than second class. So every local train has Gents Second Class compartments, Gents First Class compartments, Ladies-Only compartments, Ladies-Only First Class compartments, Handicap and Cancer Patients compartments and Senior Citizens-Only compartments. Tickets can be purchased at every station for a single-way or return journey. Most stations have long queues of passengers at the ticket counter. Daily commuters make use of the monthly, quarterly or annual passes that allow them to travel on a daily basis without buying a ticket. This helps them to save time as they don’t have to wait in long queues for tickets and plus they save lot of money. For instance: if I travel from Virar to Churchgate on a daily basis and if I buy tickets daily it will cost me Rs. 30 for a return journey. If I multiply that into 30 days, my total cost on commute is Rs. 900, however, the monthly pass for the same distance is Rs. 326, so I end up saving Rs. 574 every month.
While there are bus services, taxis and auto-rickshaws that ply in great numbers, but nothing really can beat the railway network in the city, especially when it comes to long distance travel. The “local” as we call them here, can help you travel long distances in short period of time and at a price that won’t pinch your budget. A 60 kilometer distance travel will cost you Rs. 15 while the same distance in a cab can cost you more than Rs. 1000. A local can help you reach faster than a cab. The only benefit that you get in a cab is comfort. Most people in Mumbai are not really bothered about the comfort factor, as they lead a hectic life and therefore time is what matters.
Due to overcrowding in the train, train fatalities are daily news. Around 2000 people die annually which means 17 people die on a daily basis. This is mainly because people are in a hurry and they cross train tracks and avoid foot-over bridges. Some people prefer to travel on the roof of the train (which is now not possible due to new electrification system that has 25,000 volts current). Majority of the accidents happen when people are hanging out on the doors of the local train and they accidentally slip and fall off the running train. I used to travel that way, but after a couple of scary incidents I’ve decided to travel wisely and be completely inside the train.
On weekdays, majority of the commuters commute from the northern suburban areas to the city downtown. The peak hours begin from 7a.m. to 11 a.m. During the afternoon time, the local trains are less crowded, but after 5 p.m. all the north-bound trains begin to pack up with people flocking back to their homes in far suburban areas. The peak hour continues till 11 p.m. If you’re not from the city, it is best to avoid the peak hours as it can become your worst nightmare, especially on the Western Line. However, I’ve seen many international tourists and students traveling at peak hours as they know the tips and tricks of how to board and alight on local trains.
Mumbai grows rapidly and therefore the city is always in desperate need of better transport and commute-system that allows millions to move across the city in a short period of time and comfortably. The newly-developed Metro Line and Monorail system has come up to ease the pressure off the suburban railways, but both the systems are still under development and only certain corridors of the project have been completed. So until these projects are complete it all depends on the robust and the oldest railway system to ensure that the city is always on the move. Even, if the new commute systems come in, the regular Western Line and Central Line will continue to play a major role in moving people across the city considering the large distances it covers. It is truly the Pulse of Mumbai, which when stops brings the city to a standstill.