For years now, troubled commuters have heckled railway authorities for not extending local train services till Dahanu. So when the day of inauguration of the much-awaited service finally came, I decided to do a reality check on whether this local has actually been as yearned as it’s been hyped.
At 6.30 am, I caught one of the mail express trains from Borivli to Gujarat that has a halt at Dahanu Road station – something locals have been doing for years to get to Dahanu. After one-and-half hours of journeying in the general compartment that came packed from Dadar station, there was still no scope for me to get a spot to sit. Luggage was strewn chaotically in the small passageway in the coach. The train finally touched Dahanu station at 8.15 am.
I alighted to see a neat platform, devoid of any littered garbage or splotches of spit. At the far end of the station stood the train that was meant to chug all the way to Churchgate. Near the train stood the locals who embarked on an elaborate celebration which included, but wasn’t restricted to, a dance performance by tribal groups and a visit by a bunch of school and college students and some women.
“We have got our school children to see the first local,” said Purnima Dey, principal of Shirin Diniyar Irani Learners Academy. The teachers said the train was a big relief, as it would help many students go to schools and colleges outside of Dahanu. As I walked along the platform, I came across sundry reasons for rejoicing over the commencement of the local. K Rana, a female commuter who had come all the way from Palghar with her friends, said, “We have been demanding this for the last 15 years. Railways should reduce the gap between services. We have to wait at least two hours if we miss one shuttle service.”
A fruit wholesaler Nitendra Raut who had come with his kids, said, “Now I can save the money I had to give to the middlemen for delivering chikoos (Dahanu is well-known for the fruit) to Mumbai. Transportation was a big headache before this.” Raut cannot wait to use the luggage compartment of the locals.
Certain groups were playing music at the station. Finally, the train departed at 10.47 am, making its first run. I was aboard it, seated in a first-class compartment. As it turned out, the celebration had not ended. The next station was Vangaon, which was filled with locals standing next to the tracks and howling cheers at the passing train. It seemed as if a fete was in progress. Boisar was a major station en route. Here, scores of people jumped and danced to the tunes of a DJ playing filmy music. Commuters could be seen waiting to catch the local.
Sources said the train was asked to wait longer at these stations. Locals were being re-routed to the crowded platform, so as to avoid any untoward incident in haste and excitement. As the train left Boisar station, the coach was packed. The bustle of the Mumbai local had just got larger. I heard the people compare the local to the shuttle. “The seats are pretty big and it doesn’t look congested,” said A Yadav, an engineer who got down at Boisar. After halting at all the seven stations on the 64-km-long extended railway line, the local pulled up in familiar territory in Virar at 12.32 pm.
At all the stations before this, the local was greeted with dhols and drumbeats, eagerly happy faces, clicks and flashes of cameras whirring and crowds thronging both sides of the railway tracks. At Virar, the chain of excitement stopped. The train then picked up speed, halting only at Vasai and Bhayander stations. It is on rare occasions that a train from Virar doesn’t stop at stations north of Borivli. This one didn’t. It reached Borivli at 1.04 pm, during which my compartment was teeming with college students, women, men and children.
Some women chuckled, talking about how they won’t be caught for travelling ticketless in the first class, since it was the first ride. The local reached Dadar at 1.29 pm where many got down. The remaining told the boarding commuters excitedly that this was a Dahanu-Churchgate local. At long last, after a good 2 hour-58 minute ride that covered a distance 124 kms, the train pulled in at Churchgate station at 1.45 pm. To my disbelief, it had cost Rs 30 for a second-class and Rs 200 for a first-class ticket to travel this long a distance.
Kirit Kosambia, the motorman who had navigated the local all through, said, “It was a difficult task but a memorable one, historic.” One of the senior-most motormen, he been given training on the new route, where some works are still pending and the signals are far apart. The rake was taken to car shed. Most of the flowers that locals had bedecked the train with were gone. The wind-swept frills were still hanging.
Projects on the anvil
Elevated Rail Corridor: Union Railway Minister PK Bansal said that the state support agreement (SSA) with state government is more or less done, though the cost has escalated to Rs 25,000 crore. “Planning Commission will study while the Request For Qualification (RFQ) for inviting bidders too will happen.”
Officials claimed the state government is intent on the project. Even CM Chavan announced that things are progressing well. MiD DAY on April 16 had reported that a major decision on this project was taken. High-speed rail: The railways are also keen about the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high speed rail corridor. This would allow inter-city trains top move at speeds beyond 200 kmph. “This project would need time to implement but we will achieve it,” said Bansal. Funding would be a major hurdle as it is expected to cost around Rs 65,000 crore.
Air-conditioned local trains: The railways claim that they are working hard to create one such AC local train. “The Integral Coach Factory is working on it and an air-conditioned train could be available in the next four months. The problem is that due to the volume of travellers, it would be difficult for AC local trains to take the load,” said Kul Bhushan, member of the Railway Board.