The Dahanu Road station seemed like the grounds of a gala yesterday. Joyous crowds, loud drumbeats, colourful streamers, rose and marigold blossoms, miscellaneous embellishments and celebratory chants - all mingled with one another to send the first local chugging from the western suburb toward Churchgate which is 124 kms to its south.
The celebrations seemed to be a throwback to 1853, when on April 16, Asia’s first train set out on its journey from what was then Bombay to what is now Thane. On the same day this year, the suburban rail network was extended to Dahanu, a move long and eagerly awaited by residents between Virar and Dahanu, who did not have local train connectivity to Mumbai until yesterday.
The merry locals had bedecked the train, manufactured by the Indian Coach Factory in Chennai, with flowers and frills and flags. The rake was standing at the last platform on Dahanu Road, guarded by the Railway Police Force. Its doors were shut, as officials were waiting for Union Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal and other senior functionaries to flag it off at 10.10 am. Over one-and-half hours before that, people had started filling in the station to view the train that was soon to be the first to ply from Dahanu.
Whiff of clean air
For a change, crisp cleanliness greeted the eye anywhere it looked - a rare sight at the metropolitan’s railway platforms. The floor was spic and span. And the clean toilets emanated no odour. The red-and-cream-colour tiles and the granite benches were glowing. One could notice that even the derelict foot overbridge at the station had been paid attention to. The bridge, which sports a skeletal looks with metal rods jutting out from a disintegrating mass of cement, was partly covered with a patterned cloth.
The entrance to the station had patches of fresh cement on the floor, some eleventh-hour revamp. Paver blocks had recently been cemented near the entrance where all the vehicles were parked. There was heavy security, with personnel from the local police force, railway police, and the State Reserve Police Force (SRPF) manning the premises.
The ticket checkers’ bleached-white uniform provided a contrast to the crunchy khaki of the cops. As time went by, more people poured in. By now, it was time for a regular MEMU shuttle service to ply at of 9.35 am, and it did. Soon after, doors to the local were thrown open. Many people boarded it to get a good look. Several clicked pictures of the rake at the platform. Others got in to take snapshots of the coaches from within.
All hail the local!
Finally, around 10 am, railway minister Bansal arrived, along with Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and other officials, in a helicopter. Their retinues followed in special coaches attached to a high-speed engine. A pandal had been erected right next to the tracks on which the local train was standing.
Bansal climbed a podium erected for the occasion and addressed the waiting crowds. “It is a dream come true for thousands of people as the local trains have been extended till Dahanu,” he said. Around 80,000 commuters are expected to travel on the brand new local line between Dahanu and Virar every day.
Chavan followed suit. He said the route had been extended till Dahanu after 18 years. He then urged people to take the foot overbridge instead of crossing tracks. “Everyday, at least 3,000 people die on tracks. So people should refrain from trespassing and instead use the facilities being provided,” said Chavan.
Thane guardian minister Ganesh Naik held ground next. He asked the government to build better transport and housing infrastructure to support the inflow of people in Virar and regions beyond. After 30 minutes of speeches, the train was finally flagged off by the ministers, who were still standing on the podium.
The train left at 10.47 am, to the resonant cheers of the crowds thronging the platforms, the tracks and the area near the fence. Even those in the shanties and buildings nearby shouted their approval and applauded as the train gained pace on its maiden run. From now on, the Western Railway will operate 20 EMU (electric multiple unit) services to Dahanu from Churchgate, Dadar and Borivli, and four MEMU (mainline EMU) services every day.