Going by Pawan Kumar Bansal’s promises, many Mumbaikars will soon have the opportunity to play it cool by ditching their vehicles and travelling in air-conditioned comfort on the local rail network. It’s a commendable gesture considering the sultry summers and stuffed streets of the city.
But while envisioning the light at the end of the tunnel, Bansal and the aam aadmi seem to have missed the many intimidating roadblocks on the way. From what experts MiD DAY contacted had to say on the matter, it seems that the Rs 35 crore spent on the first such AC local train or electric multiple unit (EMU) may go down the drain. Authorities claim that running just one such AC train will throw up myriad operational issues.
“I am happy to inform the august House that the first AC EMU rake will be introduced on Mumbai suburban network in 2013-14,” Bansal announced in his budget speech yesterday. The fact is, however, that only one such AC local will be manufactured and introduced in the suburban section of Western Railway (WR) on the Churchgate-Virar route.
The first predicament is the issue of fares. “Determining ticket prices specifically for the AC local train is what is being discussed everywhere, right up to the railway board. This is one of the most important issues that has to be tackled,” said a senior railway official on condition of anonymity. It has been projected that, on an avergae, each AC train will complete 12 services daily.
“We cannot go by the fares of an AC coach in a long-distance train for the suburban system,” said another official. The ticket prices of an AC local train are expected to be more than the rate for first-class coaches of an ordinary local. Sources say the railways expect to convince a particular set of clientele to give up their cars and use the AC train.
The second vexation in the bargain of running an AC local would be the accommodation of commuters. Presently, nearly 4,200 people travel inside a local train during peak hours and passengers standing on footboards is a common sight. A big problem, as railway officials foresee, is that all the doors of an AC train have to close before it can start moving.
“We are looking at the possibility of creating air cushion at the doors similar to the ones at shopping malls. This will not only avoid the issue of closing the doors, but also avoid the compartment from losing the coolness,” said a member from the railway board.
In the prevailing scenario, officials can only hope for some discipline from commuters in case they want this AC train to keep moving without delays. “We trust that the AC local train will find favour with Mumbaikars,” said former chairman of railway board Vivek Sahai. Railway officials claim that it will also be difficult to post ticket checkers in front of every compartment of this proposed 12-car AC train at stations where it will halt.
The idea of incorporating one AC coach each in existing 12-car trains is also not viable. “We will have to take out certain bogies to add these AC coaches. This would mean depriving one segment of commuters to accommodate others, which is not possible,” added a railway official.
Some representatives of the railways have asserted that unless more such AC trains are introduced, there could be confusion among people. For this very reason the proposed Churchgate-Virar Elevated Rail Corridor and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST)-Panvel Fast Line will operate only AC local trains.
“We will ask the Integral Coach Factory, Chennai to manufacture this AC EMU for Mumbai. We were waiting for the announcement in the rail budget,” said Mahesh Kumar, general manager, WR. It is expected that this AC local train will enter Mumbai by April-May 2013 for trial run.
What Mumbai got
Mumbai will have 72 new suburban services that would be divided between CR and WR. “There was scope for running at least 100 new services as power upgrade to 25,000-volt alternating current will finish this year on Central Railway,” added Vivek Sahai.
The budget has also allotted over Rs 430 crore for MUTP-II, which shall now be used for completing projects like the 5th and 6th lines on Kurla-Parel, extension of Harbour line on Andheri-Goregaon stretch, 12-car trains on CST-Panvel Harbour line and 6th line on Mumbai Central-Borivli route. The railways will also carry out surveys for Kalyan-Karjat 3rd line and Vasai Road-Diva bypass line via Naigaon that will help people going to Konkan via WR.
In a bid to improve safety for women, the railway minister also announced deployment of more women RPF constables inside trains and at stations. The women’s special locals will increase in number, gradually. Recruitment of RPF personnel is also being carried out with 10 per cent reservation for women. For metropolitan project, total amount of Rs 1,650 crore has been allotted.
Simply increasing train services without providing us proper safety, toilet facilities and platforms will not help. Paying more without receiving all the facilities is just unacceptable. - Manini Dalvi
They have just increased the freight fares without providing us with the facilities that are of utmost importance. There is a need to have more ladies coaches in trains, as the women’s workforce has increased and hence, these 72 additional train services will be of no use. The budget has been highly disappointing. - Khurshid Irani, Byculla
What we needed for the government was good train services. But this budget has been a complete waste for us and we are very upset. - Shubhangi Malvankar
I heard that in this year’s budget, a proposal for an air-conditioned coach has been passed. I feel it will be very difficult for the Railways to maintain an air-conditioned coach considering that lakhs of people use the trains on a daily basis. - Sachin Govekar, Ghansoli
I feel the Railways should have increased the number of train services on both the routes. I feel just 72 new train services isn’t enough considering the population using trains. - Akshay G, Lower Parel
I am happy to know that service fares have not increased in the budget. Considering they just recently increased the ticket fares and the pass fares, they have done a good thing by not hiking fares. - Anil Gawkar, Mumbra
The Railways lack basic amenities such as drinking water and toilet facilities. I am happy to hear that the railway minister has proposed better facilities in the coming year. Hopefully, the latrines will be more hygienic benefiting local commuters. - Kusum Gaikwad, Kalyan
The air-conditioned trains, which have been proposed in the budget will be an expensive affair and I am not sure everyone will be able to afford it. - Dinesh Jadhav, Kalyan