Harbour line commuters forced to travel in old, retro-fitted trains instead of new Siemens rakes

Nov 15, 2017, 08:30 IST | Rajendra B Aklekar

Harbour line commuters angry at Central Railway's decision to swap four of their favourite Siemens class of trains with Pune suburban railway's much-hated, older retrofitted rakes; CR denies discrimination. After years of getting second-class treatment with the worst trains in Mumbai, Harbour line commuters cannot believe that they are now being held second even to Pune passengers.

These Siemens rakes are the best that the Harbour line has to offer, and commuters are angry about losing out on them
These Siemens rakes are the best that the Harbour line has to offer, and commuters are angry about losing out on them

Commuters have gone up in arms after hearing that the Central Railway (CR) will give up four of their better rakes in exchange for rickety retrofitted trains from Pune.

In exchange, the Harbour line will get four of these 'retro' trains that are over 17 years old
In exchange, the Harbour line will get four of these 'retro' trains that are over 17 years old

CR commuters have long grumbled about having to ride in retro-fitted trains - anywhere between 17 to 22 years old - while their counterparts at Western Railway (WR) get to ride the shiny, new Bombardier rakes that began rolling in last year. In comparison, the best trains that CR has to offer are the decade-old Siemens rakes, but the commuters much prefer these over the rickety, 'retro' trains. The Harbour commuters get the worst deal of all, as most of these retro trains fall in their share. The Harbour line has only 25 of the beloved Siemens rakes, and now, the authorities are giving away four of these to Pune. In return, Harbour commuters will be saddled with yet more retro-fitted trains that nobody wants.

Complaining that they not only rattle with age, but are also stuffy and congested as compared to the more airy Siemens rakes
Complaining that they not only rattle with age, but are also stuffy and congested as compared to the more airy Siemens rakes

'Retro trains are hellholes'
Rajni Dolas, a trans-harbour passenger, said, "The retro trains on the Harbour line are hellholes. They are stuffy and congested, as compared to the Siemens trains on the main line of CR, and the swankier Bombardier rakes on WR. Now, Pune commuters will get our newer Siemens rakes, which means we will be stuck with the worst." "Many of the retro trains are in a bad condition and their maintenance is very poor. Harbour line commuters have been suffering for a long time, and it is high time that they get better trains," said Subhash Gupta from Rail Yatri Sangh Mumbai, also an ex-member of the National Zonal Railway Users Consultative Committee.

Commuters have described the retro trains as 'hellholes'
Commuters have described the retro trains as 'hellholes'

'Necessary measure'
Even as commuters protest that they are getting the short end of the stick yet again, CR officials said this is merely a necessary stop-gap measure. The Pune-Lonavala section was recently upgraded to 110kmph, but the retro trains were unable to keep pace, derailing the schedule of other long-distance trains as well. This affects several trains heading in and out of Mumbai as well. Officials said that this is why they decided to transfer the faster Siemens trains to Pune, as the Harbour line does not need much speed. However, the officials were quick with assurances that this does not mean commuters will have to suffer the old trains for long.

A senior CR official said, "This is just a stop-gap arrangement. New trains have started arriving from manufacturers, and the first one is already in place. Soon, we will replace the old fleet on Central Railway." The official added, "There is no step-motherly treatment. The only reason why the Harbour line still has old trains is because it was the last to get converted to AC power, by which time other lines started getting new trains." Akshay Ojha, a commuter, said, "WR got a fleet of the new Bombardier trains, and we have to make do with the decade-old Siemens and, worse yet, the retro trains. This is injustice. But a new Bombardier rake arrived for the Central line last week, and this has finally given us hope."

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Brits have it bad too
Interestingly, the UK — which gave birth to the Indian Railways — is going through a similar problem with outdated Pacer trains still running in northern and south-west England, as well as in South Wales. These trains were manufactured between 1980 and 1987, and are essentially just old bus frames by Leyland Motors mounted on train wheels. They are still in service to make up for a shortage in rakes, but they are set to be phased out by 2020. "Stop-gap trains like Pacers were useful in reducing costs on minor lines, but they should not be sustained for long. The Pacers here have long outlived their usefulness and deter people from travelling by rail, as they are so uncomfortable. Train travel has to meet certain basic standards," said international rail expert Christian Wolmar, author of The Iron Road: The Illustrated History of the Railway.

No more Retro in 2019
* The Harbour line currently has 25 Siemens rakes and 24 retro-fitted trains
* Once the exchange happens, this the Harbour line will have more retro trains than Siemens rakes
* 24 new Bombardier rakes will join the CR fleet
* Retro trains will be phased out completely by mid-2019, officials promise

22 years Age of the oldest retro train
25 No. of Siemens rakes on Harbour line


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