Cyclic timetable appears to be a well-tested scientific tool of timetable planning which has benefitted many countries in their public transport operations. It can also be used successfully on Mumbai's vast suburban rail network
Rajaram Bojji, former managing director of Konkan Railway and inventor of the anti-collision device (ACD) has supported the cyclic timetable (CTT) concept for suburban (local) trains in Mumbai. In an email, Mr Bojji said, "I remember for Skybus too, I had proposed a similar concept of running to keep average speeds higher. The halt time makes a difference to the average speed actually. Less halts, more average speed."
Several activists have been requesting the Railways to follow the cyclic timetable on Mumbai's vast rail network. After doing research and due diligence for years, Dipak Gandhi, chairman of the Mumbai Suburban Railway Passenger Association (MSRPA), and his colleagues have proposed a cyclic timetable, which they feel can reduce the passenger load on each local train by about 30% to 40% and also cut the travel time by 20% to 25% for long-distance commuters. Cyclic timetable also makes it possible to introduce 30% more services with the same number of rakes and tracks through super-fast and sector-wise services.
A simple mathematical analysis done by Mr Bojji or B Rajaram, as he is famously known, also shows that use of cyclic timetable can reduce the turnaround time for a local train by around 30% as well as waiting period for a commuter. He said, "A commuter has to wait, skipping a train to board the right one. To some extent, the railway platform may carry a little extra number of passengers. Maybe it is better than crowding the train. There are other factors like percentage failure of signals, track conditions and maintenance speed restrictions, the unauthorised slums crowding the track sides forcing motormen to drive cautiously, which may deny the benefit. However, the idea is worth trying."
Here is the analysis given by Mr Bojji...
The suburban railway system in Mumbai is the most complex, densely loaded and intensively utilised system in the world and has the highest passenger density in the world—69 lakh commuters travel every day. Specifically, a nine-car rake carries over 5,000 passengers against its carrying capacity of 1,700, which leads to unbearably overcrowded trains during peak hours. Traditional approaches of increasing capacity by increasing the number of coaches in rakes have not resulted in significant improvement in the problem of overcrowding. The situation is further aggravated with frequent delays and uneven frequency of trains.
"The basic wishes of any railway customer are fairly simple; he or she wants to travel fast and comfortably for a reasonable price. Furthermore, railway services should be transparent and reliable to provide a choice of service and comfort levels," said Mr Gandhi.
The Railways today is in a position to give not only safe but also speedy and comfortable rides to all its commuters from tomorrow, only if it redesigns its suburban timetable as per principles of timetable construction laid down under the Indian Railways Act and its rules—and in conformity with today's traffic needs, Mr Gandhi added.
Cyclic timetable as the name suggests is a timetable, which repeats itself after a fixed duration. A key feature of this timetable is that commuters do not have to memorise the whole timetable. All that they need to remember is the cycle time at which a train repeats itself; thus, if the cycle time is 12 minutes then even if someone has missed his train he knows that he will have to wait a maximum of 12 minutes to catch the next train.
Here is a sample time table developed by the MSRPA...
(Two Fast Services for VR Sector & One MX-VR Shuffle)
This timetable works on four basic principles.
The first principle of CTT states that all the services will have to repeat in a cyclic pattern. In the above table in case of the fast corridor Virar service, after the first service at 17:00 the next will be at 17:12—a gap of 12 minutes. Similarly all the other services will be repeated after a duration of every 12 minutes.
The second principle is Uniform Frequency: this is one of the most important principles on which CTT is based. According to this principle, if the frequency of the train services is uniform it will clearly help to segregate the demand by dividing the commuter traffic evenly in peak hours which is a basic necessity in order to reduce the level of overcrowding and thus the risk of accidents.
The third principle on which CTT works is; Dedicated Sector Wise Clearing as part of which the railway network is divided into various sectors, which are defined on the basis of passenger demand. In any sector a limited number of stations are served and not all the stations overlap or repeat in other sectors. Limited halts ensure that the rakes turn around faster leading to increased services.
Thus, currently, a Virar fast train starts from Churchgate and gets completely filled by the time it reaches Bandra. It then goes on to stop at Andheri and Borivali where there are already a number of people waiting to get in and only a few getting down. This leads to unbearably overcrowded situations and threat to the lives of those who are leaning outside the train. This is a daily pattern.
As per the specimen cyclical timetable illustrated above, the timetable is designed in such a manner that a fast train in the Virar sector would not stop at Andheri and Borivali ensuring that commuters from Churchgate would reach their destinations faster. It would also ensure that the same rake is available faster for a turnaround and can transport more commuters. In this time table commuters of Andheri and Borivali have no choice but to avoid a Virar train. In between stations would be served by other fast and slow services running for other sectors.
The fourth feature of CTT is Limited Loading: A cyclical timetable is made on par with Section (57) of the Railway Act 1989, according to which railway administration shall fix the maximum number of passengers, which may be carried in each compartment. Unlike the current overcrowded conditions CTT emphasises on limited loading by sequencing the services in such a way that it serves few stations with every service thus distributing passenger load evenly, resulting in limited loading.
According to MSRPA, the CTT, if implemented, would increase the services by 30% using the same number of rakes and railway tracks through super-fast and sector-wise services. It will also reduce overcrowding by 30% to 40% and may help in curbing accidents. Most importantly, CTT can be implemented without much additional cost.
Currently, several countries like the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the UK, Norway and Switzerland use CTT for their railway networks. In the Czech Republic, the CTT was implemented during 2004-05 and increased the railway services by 7% in the first year itself. Later it went to 15% during 2007-08 and the railway operations in that country have now achieved stability in services.
While ideas like CTT or ACD sound like a magic wand, history tells us that when it comes to applying indigenous solutions, the Indian Railways and their babus are not the best. Ask Mr Bojji, he is still waiting for the ACDs to see light of day. The biggest sorry mistake is the patent for ACDs is held by none other than the Indian Railways itself and yet the babus don’t want to implement it for reasons known only to them.