2 women get ticket to drive Mumbai's first metro trains

It took the Railways nearly 125 years to rope in their first woman driver, but Mumbai Metro’s very first batch of 40 pilots includes two women, who are now in the midst of a gruelling 80-day training programme in the city, having finished a stint abroad. The training, imparted on a machine that costs a hefty Rs 40 crore, teaches the trainee pilots not only how to drive the new trains, but also to tackle crises like terror strikes or medical emergency.

Manning the controls: Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan gave a green signal to the trial run of Mumbai Metro Rail between Versova and Andheri Sports Complex earlier this month

Once they complete training, the two women — Priyanka Balid and Srikala Nair — and their 38 male counterparts, will be maneuvering trains on the 11.07-km-long Versova Andheri Ghatkopar (VAG) corridor, the city’s first Metro line.

Priyanka, who is a mechanical engineer, and her co-trainee Srikala were selected from 6,000 applicants who responded to the advertisement.

Ready to ride
Mumbai Metro One Private Limited (MMOPL) officials revealed that the training programmes were trained in a manner that would equip the pilots to handle crisis effectively. Twenty-four-year-old Priyanka, who is enjoying her stint thoroughly, said, “Training to be a pilot is definitely interesting and involves a lot of hard work. The training includes 40 per cent of theory, and 60 per cent practical work. We are learning to tackle possible challenges that we may face during train operations — say if the train malfunctions or a passenger falls sick. At the end of each programme, each trainee pilot is evaluated through a written and a practical examination.” If they are successful, the trainees will get be awarded a certificate of competency. At present, the trainees are running the train in a car depot as also on a 3-km stretch between Versova and Azad Nagar. Srikala, the other trainee-train pilot, said, “The most challenging aspect was the pace and intensity of training - continuous, regular assessment to test competency is not something you cannot avoid.”

One of the two selected trainee pilots goes through a practice drill. Pic/Nimesh Dave

On the syllabus
Experienced train drivers who have undergone advanced driver’s training in India and abroad are imparting the training sessions. The batch of 40 trainee pilots have to undergo a series of stringent tests, through will the gradual upgradation of their skill sets will be evaluated. Simulator training is also a key aspect of the programme, preparing them for real-life situations that may crop up. Their reaction time is calculated in aach of these tests to gauge their alacrity.

In fact, they aren’t just trying out their newly acquired skills on the VAG corridor - the group recently got the chance to run trains at Seoul and Nanjing in China. MMOPL and MMRDA officials feel that the experience of driving trains abroad helped the trainees understand and appreciate the high standards of safety practised there. “This allowed them to garner in-depth understanding of the management practices adopted internationally to respond to passenger expectations in times of emergency, and even under normal circumstances,” said an MMOPL spokesperson.

Last stretch
When they complete the gruelling training programme, each trainee has to successfully drive an empty train on Mumbai Metro Line 1 to receive his or her certificate of competency, after which they will be taken on board to drive Metro trains all over the city. Refresher training will be given every six months over the first two years of service.

Keeping in mind that technical aptitude for pilots to tackle challenges on the job, the candidates had to have at least a graduate degree in science, with Physics and Maths as subjects. Engineers with diplomas and degrees were also eligible. To qualify for training, each pilot had to pass rigorous medical tests.

The selection process was also exacting. The RDSO (Research, Design and Standards Organisation) conducted the testing modules. Applicants had to go through written tests, which evaluated their memory, IQ, observation skills and personality type. Then also had to ace certain aptitude tests. Those who cleared this level were further shortlisted through two rounds of interviews. After selection, they went through yet another series of physical tests, so
their reaction time could be calculated.

Project Details
Name: Versova Andheri Ghatkopar Metro corridor
Length: 10.07 Km
Cost: Rs 2,356 crore

>> The metro rakes that have arrived in Mumbai have four coaches each, with a minimum seating capacity of about 50 passengers and can accommodate about 325 standees, which sums up to a total of 1,500 passengers per train

>> The trail run on the 3-km stretch between Versova and Azad Nagar station was successfully conducted on May 1, which was flagged off by Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan

Special features
Some key highlights of Mumbai Metro One:

>> First metro project in India with a cable-stayed bridge built over Western Express Highway (Jogeshwari Flyover). This is also the highest stayed cable bridge for a metro in Asia

>> Out of 16 rolling stocks of four coaches, 10 have already arrived and are being commissioned

>> The existing suburban trains connect the northern and southern parts of the city. This project will provide the first East-West rail based connectivity between the central and western suburbs

>> This project will reduce the journey time from 120 minutes to 21 minutes between Versova and Ghatkopar and will provide rail-based access to MIDC, SEEPZ and other commercial developments

>> The project is in the final stages of completion, with 99 per cent of civil work already completed and all rail system works in final stage of testing and commissioning; integrated testing of all the systems will begin shortly

>> The city's first Metro project will have a treatment plant to recycle water used to wash rakes. Four lakh litres of water will be recycled every day, making it an eco-friendly initiative

>> The rolling stocks will have black boxes to record all vital information at time of any unfortunate incident

The number of days that the training programme is going to continue for

Rs 50K-Rs 70K
The monthly salary to be paid to the pilots once they begin manning the controls 

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