Saturday, July 4, 2009

SLOW SPEED

Another rail budget went by and nothing significant for the average Mumbaikar.

While the full list of stations to be upgraded to a world-class standard is awaited, it looks like both Sealdah and Howrah stations (both stations in Kolkata; capital city of the rail minister's home state) are included, but Mumbai gets only Mumbai CST. Mumbai Central seems to have been left out, despite its prominence. Stations like the Bandra Terminus and Kurla Terminus, which were built to decongest Mumbai Central and Mumbai CST stations, respectively, seem neglected. My friend Prashant Mahesh recently caught a train from Bandra and was quite distraught on seeing the conditin of the station complex there. Imagine getting out of a Meru Cab and getting in the Bandra Terminus; that is some irony.

At the Mumbai Central station, for many years I had seen policemen wonderfully manning the taxi stand there. No more of that now. What do we have instead? Rude and greedy taxi-drivers lining up their taxis outside platform no 5 soliciting only those passengers that would yield them a handsome return. They do not entertain short-distance passengers even if they have luggage. With the police gone, its chaos out there. I once saw a couple being rejected, ignored and refused by several taxis outside platform No 5 of Dadar railway station despite the husband being clearly physically handicapped. Shame on such taxis.

Some Suburban stations are worse. For instance, it's a nightmare getting a rickshaw outside Andheri station, especially its East side. I shudder every time I have to go to Andheri for a meeting. There is no rickshaw stand there. Empty rickshaws run past us and we have to say out loud to them where we want to go to. Politeness is a virtue that most of them have never heard of, one gets a sense. If they feel like taking us, they stop, else they don't even look at us, even if they are running empty. The worst part is we have solicit rickshaws in the middle of the road jostling several BEST buses at the same time. One eye on the rickshaw and the other on running buses. I tell you, catching a rickshaw outside Andheri (E) is a life-threatening exercise.

I feel there should be police manning taxis and rickshaws that pick up passengers outside all railway stations, across India , or atleast the more important and bigger railway stations, just like at the airports.

The East-West corridor of Mumbai is hugely under-developed. Except for the Vasai-Diva and Mahim-Wadala harbour line connection, the east-west corridor has nothing else to rely on. The harbour line connection is very slow and is in one corner of Mumbai. The other option is changing trains at Dadar, but changing trains is hassling. There is a pressing need to connect Borivali and Thane, along the lines of Ghodbunder Road; one of this belt's upcoming areas. Infact seamless and round-the-clock connectivity is required from the far-end suburbs of western line such as Virar, Vasai and so on to the far-end harbour line suburbs of the Harbour Line such as Panvel and Belapur. I shudder to think of the guy who lives in Virar and has a job in Panvel or vice-versa.

Another Achilles heal is the Mumbai Metro. We are already many, many years late on this count; developed countries have a large and an extremely-efficient underground rail, but Mumbai has still to see its first Metro line. On top of it, we have to endure the agony of the Metro line construction over the ground, in crowded and jam-packed areas. They may be trying to save the costs, but an underground metro should be the way to go forward, not an over-the-ground. Maybe in some areas they can, but certainly in a significant majority of areas. Maybe in another 20 years we will? .....after all, we just got our Bandra-Worli sea link after all these years, didn't we?

The idea of non-stop trains ('Duronto'), mooted in this year's Rail Budget, is a myth and cannot be a reality. When you call a train a non-stop train, it means it won't stop at stations, but that doesn't mean it just won't stop at all between the start and end stations. Long-distance trains need to be refurbished and locomotives need to change. Besides, India does not have the necessary infrastructure to facilitate the running of non-stop trains. Special high-speed corridors are required to facilitate a smooth running of these trains and where punctuality can be practically achieved. You can't have the same set of tracks that run these type of trains and also, say, Virar-Dahanu Shuttle. Besides, passengers travelling on really long distances (take for instance, one of the proposed routes of Ernakulum-Delhi) would need to get off at stations to stretch themselves. Imagine being confined inside the train from Delhi and Ernakulum, all the way! And if trains have even three to four of such stops, the idea of a non-stop train is lost. There is, then, hardly any difference in the speed of these trains and the Rajdhanis. Unless, these non-stop trains are introduced for shorter, inter-city routes, like say Mumbai-Pune or Mumbai -Surat.

I have always wondered why the height of the railway platforms of India cannot be the same as the height of the coaches. Internationally, isn't that the standard? You just, sort of, walk in the compartment from the platform; in India you climb in the compartments. This puts the senior citizens and women at great risk.

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