Almost every Mumbaikar and there are over 75 lakh, who travel daily on the Mumbai Suburban Rail Network (local trains), are a worried lot with the regular failure of train services due to one or the other reason. This too when the Minister and Mumbai man Suresh Prabhu is busy hitting headlines almost every day with new schemes for railways. Ever since, Mr Prabhu took over the reins, there are so several new schemes announced but life for the over 75 lakh daily commuter of local trains have remained the same, sometimes even becoming worse. Even just a mention of upcoming monsoon makes these commuters skip a heartbeat.
Today, Mumbai has metro, monorails making grand entry but Indian Railway will always remain the first, preferred and cheapest choice for the aam admi. At the same time, it is becoming the most neglected, in terms of regular maintenance and providing facilities to lakhs of daily commuters.
In 2012, Dinesh Trivedi, former railway minister, while speaking at an event organised by Moneylife Foundation, had said that the entire railway system is a mess and there is a urgent need to modernize it so that people can travel safely with some dignity, unlike what every commuter, especially on Mumbai's local trains experience every day. “There are no maintenance contracts given by the Railways and they are carrying out even the basic repairs on ad-hoc basis,” he had said.
The once-efficient suburban rail network is the lifeline of Mumbai. However, over the past two decades it is creaking under the weight of passenger influx, corruption and lack of investment in upgrading infrastructure. The extraordinary crowding of trains and poor commuter facilities such as stations makes the Mumbai suburban train system so prone to accidents that more than 10-12 people die in railway mishaps every day – a figure that would have made front-page news anywhere else in the world but meets with apathy in India.
Commuters face delays (5-10 minutes delay is regular!), or cancellation of local trains almost three to four days in a week. The entire suburban rail network needs to be overhauled as it is creaking under enormous pressure and lack of proper maintenance. Almost every Sunday, the Central Railway (CR) and Western Railway (WR), which run local train services, have their mega blocks for undertaking maintenance and overhauling work. But the regular technical failures point out that either these are not being carried out as expected or there is something missing, like an expert who knows how to get the job properly done.
A look at the incidents in May 2016 alone is enough to show why local commuters are a worried lot.
12 May 2016: Commuters had a tough time using the WR network following a signal failure between Goregaon and Malad during evening peak hours. This resulted in local trains halting at one spot for about 30 minutes and thus running behind schedule.
On the CR, at around 7pm there were technical glitches in between Masjid and CST due to which an Ambarnath-bound train was halted for over 30 minutes. The technical problem was solved at 7.40pm however, this delayed several trains leaving from CST. There was a huge chaos at CST. The local trains leaving CST were running behind schedule for next few hours.
14 May 2016: A technical glitch affected signals on northbound slow and fast corridors at Andheri around 10.50am. The problem was fixed and traffic was restored at 11.30am on the fast track, while services resumed on the slow line at 11.55am. The disruption forced WR authorities to cancel 40 services. Over 100 services were delayed between 20-30 minutes.
25 May 2016: Technical failures marred the Central Railway (CR) train services after the first drizzle that Mumbai experienced and the repercussions were felt even on next day. During that period, the CR cancelled 120 trains services owing to technical glitch. There was a failure of auxiliary transformer at Vikhroli and between Sion and Kurla on the CR main line. Commuters returning home from work had to sweat it out, with several trains being stalled on the tracks one after the other. Some of them went without electricity, which meant they had to stay in darkness for hours. Thousands of commuters were stranded and many of them got down from the halting trains and walked through tracks covering distances. This incident brought windfall to taxi drivers who made the most of the situation with surge pricing.
31 May 2016: An empty coach derailed off a slow track between Lower Parel and Elphinstone railway stations at 2:15 am Tuesday disrupting train services. All trains on both slow and fast track of Western Railway remained affected during the morning peak hour. Rail officials told reporters that a 19-coach empty train was travelling from the Parel workshop to the yard when the second coach capsized onto the adjoining track, affecting services on both directions.
However, technical glitches are not the only reason that causes delay in local trains. According to official data, as many as 47 bovine animals were run over by local and long-distance trains on WR in the past three months. Every time a cow or buffalo is hit by a train, services get delayed between 15 and 20 minutes.
Looking at the railways pre-monsoon disruption, it seems that the 75 lakh commuters from Mumbai have to travel through technically hit trains and suffer from the approaching monsoon fury as well.