Saturday, March 4, 2017

My dream of Mumbai's Metro and Monorail

It has been quite a while since the first phase of Monorail (Wadala-Chembur) in Mumbai was inaugurated. The second phase (Wadala-Mahalaxmi) is still under construction. Meanwhile, the first Mumbai Metro route is running to packed capacity between Versova - Ghatkopar.

While the Versova - Ghatkopar metro route has brought about a lot of relief to the east-west city commute on and around this route, the rest of the city continues to reel under increasing traffic that promises to get insane by the day. Offices have shifted to new suburban commercial areas like Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC) and Kalina Santacruz.  But public transport is so pathetic there that during peak hours, especially evenings, it's almost impossible to catch a rickshaw, much less get into crowded buses that ferry thousands of people to nearby suburban railway stations. It's inhuman; looks like a sea of people on the streets after what appears to be just a dozen rickshaws.

Once after finishing a meeting in Santacruz late evening, as I failed to catch a rickshaw despite jostling with dozens and dozens of people scrambling to hail rickshaws, I felt an urgent need to pee. I had to walk 4 kms in excruciating pain and massive traffic jams and thank God I found Hyatt hotel nearby where I could use its facilities to relieve myself. I felt like I could have fainted that day!

As a Mumbaikar, I would propose the following:

First principles: What is the difference between Monorail and Metro? Do they serve different needs or should we choose one over the other just on the basis of space and cost?

A monorail is light railway.

  • It should cover short distances; typically to serve business districts. And connect them to nearby transportation hubs, such as a suburban rail station or bus station or metro station.
  • This explains why it should be overground
  • To me, a monorail route between Mahalaxmi to Chembur is a waste. That is not what a monorail should do. That's the Metro's territory.
  • Any business district that gets planned in suburbs should be planned with a monorail route in mind
  • South Mumbai, as it is already so crowded, should not have any monorail. Here's where Metro should be built and, preferably, underground.
  • A monorail should cater office crowds hence should be open from early mornings to late night to help facilitate office goers to reach nearby transportation hubs, like a suburban railway station.

A metro caters to heavy traffic

  • Hence, the routes should be long
  • Like most of the advanced Metro routes around the world, Mumbai Metro should, preferably, be underground. It's expensive, but keeping the Metro over the ground takes up a lot of space (already a rare commodity in crowded cities like Mumbai) but also blocks precious sunlight to reach the ground. Just go to various metro stations in Mumbai and Delhi and stand on the pavements underneath stations.
  • Multiple metro routes should criss cross to help facilitate passengers reach multiple destinations. I had heard that when Paris Metro was planned, the objective was to have one metro station within a 3 square km radius.

Challenges of Mumbai

  • Unlike Delhi which is circular in shape, Mumbai is a long strip. The distance between north and south is vast and improved connectivity is important to ferry passengers. Any breakdown in this link disrupts commute to a great extent
  • Since Mumbai is covered by sea on both the west and east coast, the city can only expand northwards. This explains why suburbs beyond Borivali and Thane have developed and more and more people are shifting there.
  • But any such northbound expansion only extends the north-south commute time. 

Possible solutions

  • Suburban stations on Western, Central and Harbour lines should be identified as hubs.
  • Monorails should touch one or maximum two of these hubs and connect nearby office areas.
  • Monorails should only be built to connect office / commercial areas with the hubs. They should be ideally limited to just 10 kms.
  • Metros should connect long distances and should multiple hubs and also make it a point to connect one or few monorail stations. This helps interconnectivity and reduced pressure on any one hub
  • Mumbai should be divided into two zones. 
  •         Zone#1: Mumbai city + suburbs up to  Borivali (Western railway or WR), Thane (Central Railway or CR) and Mankhurd (Harbour line).
  •         Zone#2: Suburbs beyond Borivali (Western railway or WR), Thane (Central Railway or CR) and Mankhurd (Harbour line).

Case in hand
The distance between Virar station and Borivali is 26 kms. Realistically- and in terms of square kms- there's a vast landmass of settlements on the east and west side along this route. The same is the case on CR (between Thane and Kasara, Thane and Karjat) and Harbour line (Mankhurd and Panvel).

These areas (Zone#2) have a burgeoning population. To help them reach faster from South Mumbai business and commercial districts as well as various other business districts in Zone#1, to their homes in Zone#2 in the least amount of time possible, should be the objective.

At the same time, commuters residing all along Zone#1 should also be given a fast commute.

To help achieve both of the above- and given the fact that Mumbai is growing northwards- it is essential to have separate lines for Zone#1 and Zone#2. And Zone#2 lines should skip Zone#1 as far as possible. This will enable Zone#2 residents to reach their homes faster.

It will also help avoid the numerous conflicts between commuters of the two zones as we see them happening on WR and CR. Numerous news reports have surfaced over the years on how commuters coming from Virar end do not allow residents of Borivali to enter the trains and how commuters beyond Thane don't allow people to get off or enter before Thane and block the doorways (read here and here).

At present, Mumbai's east-west connections are pathetic. Roads are always jammed and WR and CR meet only at Dadar and Parel/Elphinston. It's a long commute for passengers using trains who wish to go east-west. For instance, a Virar (WR) resident who works in Vikhroli (CR), has to come to Dadar and change trains then go back to Vikhorli. Virar to Dadar by a fast train is 1 hour if it is on time. Add 10 minutes to change trains at Dadar and waiting time. Add a further 20 minutes to reach Vikhroli. Total travel time = 1.5 hours each way. That is just station to station. Add atleast another 30 minutes on an average to reach stations at the respective ends and commute time could be an agonising two hours each way (four hours every day!).

Possible solutions (Monorail)

  • Monorail route #1: Bandra WR local- BKC - Kurla station - Santa Cruz business district - Santa Cruz local - Bandra WR local
  • Similarly, there could be many other monorail routes that could be considered to serve other present and upcoming business districts or clusters. 

Possible solutions (Metro)
Let's call Metro network in Zone#1 as Mumbai Metro (MM) and in Zone#2, Mumbai Metro One (MMO).
MM and MMO should have different routes. For MMO, the aim is to transport passengers quickly to the edges of Zone #1 as quickly as possible. In other words, MMO should have minimal stations in Zone#1, only in business districts for office goers, pick the up and go straight to Zone#2.

Once MMO reach Zone#2, then the trains should become akin to slow trains and have as many stations as it takes to serve that route.

The Zone#1 routes should not go beyond Zone#1 edges.

WR, CR and Harbour line routes should ideally have atleast one Zone#2 route serving the remote areas (beyond Zone#1). All these lines should converge and terminate at Dadar-Parel.

Atleast one Zone#1 route also from WR, CR and Harbour line routes should converge at Dadar-Parel.

This kind of route meeting at Dadar-Parel will facilitate commuters to effectively criss cross and also effectively commute between Zone #1 and Zone#2.

For instance, as per the above Virar-Vikhroli example, a Virar resident (Zone#2) can take the MMO route to reach Dadar, cross over to CR MM to reach Vikhroli (Zone#1).

The WR Zone#2 and CR Zone#2 should start from Dadar-Parel, run parallel, have stops at BKC, Santa Cruz-Kalina business district and possibly SEEPZ and then bifurcate. The WR MMO's next station should be straight at Dahisar and then have regular stops going forward. Similarly, after SEEPZ, the CR MMO's next stop should be Thane and then go beyond from there with regular stops.

The Harbour Line MMO should head from Seepz to go straight to Vashi and then have regular stops beyond.

Regular criss - cross routes should be encouraged. For instance, Godbunder Road (Thane) to Bandra.

Conclusion: Unless Mumbai (and other cities across India) takes up metro and monorail work seriously, efficiently, and speedily, the traffic situation will only get worse and make our cities more and more crowded. 

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