Thursday, March 30, 2023
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Mumbai local is back on track. But how did the Maximum City even survive without it?

The picture of a man worshiping a Mumbai local is viral. The local is the vehicle of the mortal, much like Hindu gods who have from lions to tigers to peacocks.

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A photograph of a daily commuter bowing down in reverence to Mumbai’s local trains has gone viral. The Mumbai local resumed operations on 1 February in full swing after it was stopped due to the coronavirus pandemic 10 months ago.

Many, mostly those who do not belong to Mumbai, were perplexed — what does a local train give a commuter except foul smell, violent jostles, suffocation, heat, headache and even death? More than 2,500 people lose their lives on Mumbai’s suburban network every year. Why would you love a public transport in which 16 people are crammed into just 1 sq mt of space during the rush hour?

The answer is simple: The Mumbai local is the vehicle of the mortal in Mumbai, much like the Hindu gods who choose mice, peacocks, lions and tigers to get from one place to another.

As India was unlocking, Mumbai locals were still unavailable to many, which made commuting a living hell. For example, a utensil seller travelled nine hours every day during the lockdown to reach his place of work. A cook told Mumbai Mirror how the absence of the Mumbai local meant she had to travel seven hours every day, instead of her usual two-hour commute from Dombivali to Thane. The absence of trains also crippled the Mumbai’s iconic Dabbawala’s business — the Mumbai local trains may be running on an infrastructure that is so last century, but they don’t fail to do their part in supporting the economy of India’s commercial capital.

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Locals on track

Local train services resumed after a 10-month-long hiatus. And people lined up to get to their workplaces. On day one, long queues were seen in front of ticket counters. On the very first day, over 30 lakh people took the train service. Compare this with Delhi Metro numbers — 7,500 people had boarded the Metro on the first day when its Yellow Line stretch was reopened in September.

The local trains are available to the general public only during specific hours, that is from the first train in the morning till 7am, from 12pm to 4pm and from 9pm till the last departure. This doesn’t ease many people’s commuting woes since trains remain un-operational during peak office hours. The Railways has deployed maximum staff at the stations to ensure there’s no overcrowding, the frequency of random ticket checks has also been increased. The sight of a thinly-occupied suburban station and train compartments is something that is hard to imagine. Crowds and Mumbai local go hand-in-hand. 

In fact, people were disappointed on the first day when services resumed since many were turned back to avoid overcrowding. Many couldn’t make it to their office on time and had to cancel their travel plans due to long queues at ticket counters. Overcrowding? Isn’t that the central experience of Mumbai local? It is like having Maggie noodles without the masala sachet.

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Mumbai’s lifeline…

Mumbai cannot function without its local trains. The suspension of the local during monsoon, when heavy rainfall inundates the railway stations, brings the Maximum City to a grinding halt.

The local is the reason citizens afford to live in far-off suburbs, are able to see the Mumbai dream and make lucrative careers in the city’s high rises. In a way, the local is also a unifier. In its tightly-packed compartments, the salary brackets and class differences merge, for its passenger list is most diverse — from blue collar to white collar workers.

The Western Railway connects far off suburbs like Vasai, Virar and Borivali with Churchgate. The Central Railway connects Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) with Thane, Dombivali (the butt of many memes), Kalyan and even as far as Kasara. Remember Badlapur? It’s a station on Central Railway, 54 km or almost two hours away from Mumbai. Many travel daily even from here to find their living in Mumbai. Then there’s the Harbour Line, which connects Navi Mumbai to CST and suburbs like Bandra and Andheri.

Local trains give people the opportunity to seek a better life, without them the reach to their bread and butter becomes difficult. Commuters travel to Mumbai for blue collared and white collared jobs alike. To sell fish, vegetables, insurance and television. How would young couples with hardly a penny in the pocket reach Bandstand or Marine Drive for a date that costs nothing? Mumbai’s always on-time dabbas wouldn’t even be in the business if not for the trains, Mumbai wouldn’t be the phenomenon it is. This is why the Mumbaikars revere these trains, even if they give them a hard time.

Trains are also the place of kindness, where you end up making memories, no matter how weird they might be. Even if you faint of exhaustion, which is pretty frequent in the local, you’ll find aunties and uncles give up their precious seats for you to lie on and instantly feed you chocolates and give you water.

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…running on ventilator support

Mumbai local trains undoubtedly need an overhaul: the length of platforms and the number of coaches in every train needs to be increased. In 2018, Railways Minister Piyush Goyal had proposed that all trains on Western and Central Railway be converted into 15-coach units to increase Mumbai local’s capacity by 25 per cent.

As of 2019, the Western Railway ran 54 services with four 15-coach services between Virar and Churchgate. In 2019, it was announced that the Western Railway will get 121 additional 15-coach trains. Currently, Central Railway runs only 22 fifteen-coach trains daily, when it has in service 858 trains per day.

The Railways has introduced AC trains but commuting on these is exorbitantly expensive — it costs a commuter Rs 205 for travelling between Churchgate and Virar (two stations on the extreme ends of the western line). Such services should not only increase in number but also be made affordable.

The infrastructure at railway stations is also poor. In 2019, a bridge collapse at the CST had left six dead and 31 injured. A stampede in 2017 at the Elphinstone Road railway station also led to the death of 22 people and left 39 injured. The bridge was simply too overcrowded to be able to hold the load.

It is the Mumbai local that makes the Maximum City go the distance, every day, and every night. It runs in the spirit of Mumbai. Several ‘Unlocks’ announced by the government would have failed to give the city back its speed. The return of the Mumbai local could well be the first big sign of normalcy.

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  1. I love local train because it is fastest and easiest option to reach anyone.

    Why it is the lifeline of Mumbai because we really don’t have options to travel. Mumbai is not yet ready to handle such large crowd by road. Only options left is Local which is fastest and cheapest compared to any cities. So from poor to rich , everyone will prefer locals.

  2. Lol, it amazes me how brainwashed Mumbai people are that they consider sub standard infrastructure and pathetic transport arrangements as their lifeline. “Beggars can’t be choosers” saying comes to mind. The shape of mumbai and especially the fact that the suburbs exists only as glorified hostels for the main offices in mumbai mean that the local is the best worst option. Until and unless the suburbs become sef sufficient in therms of employment, this sorry state of affairs will continue and fools like you will continue to glorify your suffering lol.

  3. Let local trains be open for all during actual office hours , peak hours which is actually beneficial to the common man. We are all accostomed to the present situation.

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