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The Mumbai Project: Mumbai's new railway station

india Updated: Dec 14, 2007 19:47 IST
Rajendra Aklekar
Rajendra Aklekar
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

"Changes need to be executed in totality. The key is to integrate various modes of transport. The 10-storey Dhoby Ghaut station, which has car parks, restaurants and corporate tenants such as HSBC and MTV, is an example that Singapore can give the world. Mumbai needs something like that." - Casey Tan Kiuk Hee,Deputy Manager, local planning, Singapore's Land Transport Authority. Last month, Casey showed Mumbai planners how Singapore's Dhoby Ghaut was remodelled.

With 44 platforms and 67 tracks, New York City's Grand Central Terminal is the world's largest railway station. It is also a huge tourist attraction, its exquisite building, constructed in what is called the Beaux Arts architectural style. It draws about half a million people each day.

Yet 30 years ago, the station was in a state of collapse and threatened with demolition. Following a public outcry, New York's civic authorities began a decade-long renovation project that ended in 1998 and put the 'grand' back into the nearly century-old terminal. The restoration turned Grand Central into a mini-city, with restaurants, shops, hotel rooms, apartments - even a police station of its own.

"Grand Central was in very bad shape in the 80s," recalled Ashok Datar, an independent transport consultant who runs a non-profit organisation called the Mumbai Environment Social Network. "There was litter, no connecting points and dilapidated furniture. It was worse than any of our suburban stations. But when I visited it recently, I could not recognise it. It was magnificent, with public amenities spilling over."

Like Grand Central Terminal (which opened in 1913) once was, Dadar station, the hub of Mumbai's suburban railway network, is today in utter disrepair. Built in 1856, it has changed little to keep up with the huge increase in passenger traffic, which in the past 20 years has more than doubled to 2.5 lakh people.

"Dadar station is the capital of disorder in Mumbai," said B.A. Pradnya, 28, a psychological counsellor who lives in Kurla and works in Dadar. She would rather tolerate a slower commute by road than have to negotiate Dadar station every day. "I prefer traffic jams to the chaos in Dadar station, where you are pushed, shoved and treated like a criminal," she said dramatically. "I used to take 20 minutes to walk from the station to the main road. In this time, I could have got to Pune by air."

So can Mumbai convert Dadar into a Grand Central?

The question is not as absurd as it might first sound. The country is flush with foreign money - Rs 2.68 lakh crore was invested in Indian companies in the first nine months of 2007 - and policymakers constantly talk about making the city a global financial centre. Then surely, we must benchmark ourselves against the world's best. Even on its own terms, overhauling Mumbai's stations is crucial. For railway stations like Dadar are key - but often overlooked - components in a transport network.

Poorly designed ones with inadequate infrastructure and weak connections to other modes of transport are huge bottlenecks, wasting the time of commuters and sapping their energy. They dilute improvements in other parts of the network. Moreover, stations have a huge potential to be developed commercially.

Fiddling at the edges

Yet the only plan Mumbai has for improving its stations is the Station Area Traffic Improvement Scheme, or Satis for short, an extremely modest project for upgrading some facilities at the four most crowded stations on the 103-station suburban rail network, which carries six million people each day. The stations are Dadar and Borivli on the Western line, Ghatkopar on the Central line and Chembur on the Harbour line.

This scheme is itself part of the larger Mumbai Urban Transport Project, which is supported in part by a World Bank loan. After a delay of three years, caused by disputes between the railways and the municipal corporation, Satis will finally kick off next month, with the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority, which designed the scheme and will also implement it, set to call for contractor bids.

The authority hopes to finish the project by 2010 at a total cost of Rs 72 crore. The project's main aim is to help passengers get in and out of the four stations faster, and to bring some order to the chaos in the areas outside, according to Milind Mhaiskar, the joint commissioner of the planning authority. More specifically, the authority plans to build several new overhead foot-bridges that link platforms to each other, construct subways and covered skywalks connecting these stations to the outside, erect new ticket counters, and widen roads and clear space for parking lots outside.

All of this is welcome: commuters using these stations will save considerable energy and travel time as the stations become easier to navigate, enter and exit. They will also find the area outside the stations a little more salubrious, and will more easily find road connections - whether auto, taxi, bus or car. But given that the project will anyway cause a huge amount of dislocation, experts felt that planners have lost a rare opportunity to thoroughly overhaul the stations. (A more comprehensive plan to revamp the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus exists, but that is part of a national project to overhaul 22 stations for long-distance trains, beginning with the main one in Patna, Railway Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav's hometown.) "Satis is a drop in the ocean, entailing a few cosmetic changes," said Datar. "It is a piecemeal plan, while Mumbai's stations require a complete makeover."

Planners could have converted the four stations into transport hubs, such as Singapore's Dhoby Ghaut station, Tokyo's Shinjuku station, the world's busiest station with three million passengers passing through each day, London's Clapham Junction or Berlin's Hauptbanhof. Even the multi-storey stations in Navi Mumbai - Belapur, Vashi and Nerul, for example - boast better infrastructure, with capacious bus and taxi stands outside, offices and eateries within. Take Singapore. Over the past few years, its transport authority transformed Dhoby Ghaut from a small station into one of the city-state's biggest transport hubs, today a junction for three railway lines, with huge bus and taxi stands, underground parking space for 100 cars, as well as restaurants, boutiques, and office space leased to big-ticket companies such as HSBC and MTV.

"Changes need to be executed in totality. The key is to integrate various modes of transport," said Casey Tan Kiuk Hee, deputy manager of local planning at Singapore's Land Transport Authority, the country's unified transport organisation. In the future, something along these lines could be planned for Andheri station, which will also be a terminus for the metro (see Mumbai Project's November 22 report).

Missing the retail train

A couple of Mumbai stations such as Churchgate and CST do have shops and eating stalls - albeit on a very modest scale - but experts said the Satis proposal completely ignores the retail angle. Developing a station as a shopping complex not only offers opportunities to weary commuters to pick up things on their way home and meet friends for a quick cup of coffee.

It also partly solves the problem of funding: a station that makes money leasing out property can subsidise infrastructure. "Rail and retail go hand in hand," said S. Sivarama, a former professor of retail management at Mumbai University. "The huge volume of commuters can be turned into a volume of shoppers." Consultant Datar had made a presentation to policymakers on his plan for Santacruz station.

The plan envisioned shifting the hawkers and shops outside the station to the main building, and using the cleared space outside for car parks, bus, auto and taxi stands. The presentation has evidently not made a dent. Moreover, some experts said the number of passengers passing through a station should not be the only parameter to give it priority. Perhaps one should also pick stations close to developing business hubs, such as Kanjur Marg, the station closest to Powai, and thereby divert some road traffic to rail.

This northeastern suburb, for example, is a traditional engineering hub, and in the past five years has become a magnet for call centres, technology firms and finance companies, including blue chips such as Wipro and Lehman Brothers. It is also home to the world-class Indian Institute of Technology. But Kanjur Marg is the opposite of world class.

Ask Harish Poojary, 30, who works at a call centre in Powai. He hobbles along a 50-metre stretch of mud, pebbles and garbage running parallel to the tracks at Kanjur Marg station on the Central line to get to the main road, from where he catches an auto or bus to work. "It's an obstacle course out of the station," he said. It is something he will have to live with. For now, all that he, Pradnya and other Mumbai commuters will get is Satis.

Some commuters will save energy and travel time because the project will make four key stations, Dadar, Borivli, Ghatkopar and Chembur, easier to navigate, enter and exit. It will also make it easier for these commuters to catch an auto, taxi or bus outside the station, by widening roads and clearing spaces outside. Those with cars will have new parking lots.

Is this enough?

Problem 1: Where's the vision thing?
Mumbai's plan aims for a modest upgradation, instead of a radical conversion of the four stations into transport hubs, which integrate all modes of transport, the way Singapore did to its Dhoby Ghaut station. Since even a small upgradation will cause some dislocation, this opportunity could have been used to overhaul the stations completely, the way New York City did to Grand Central Terminal, the world's largest railway station.

Problem 2: How were stations chosen?
The sole selection criterion for picking a station is the number of passengers passing through it. Other parameters should also be included. For instance, a station that is now not used by many passengers but is very close to a developing business hub, such as Kanjur Marg station is to Powai, can be developed to divert road commuters to rail.

Problem 3: Stations should pay for themselves
The plan does not exploit the retail potential of stations, which have been successfully developed commercially abroad and, indeed, in our own backyard, in Navi Mumbai and on the Delhi Metro. The money from leasing property out can be used, at least partly, to subsidise, new infrastructure.

About Dhoby Ghaut

Dhoby Ghaut MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) Station is the largest Mass Rapid Transit Station in Singapore with an interchange point of 3 lines and 20,000 passengers per hour. It is named so after an old Indian washermen's place at the site. It is the first attempt by Singapore's Land Transport Authority at integrating commercial development with a station. It is currently the largest and deepest MRT station in Singapore. The deepest point is 28 metres and it is the only station to have 5 storeys below ground level and 10 storeys above the ground.

The trendsetter

Kharghar railway station cum commercial complex on the Mumbai CST-Panvel railway line is the only station on Mumbai suburban railway that has a parking deck on the first floor of the station.

The 19,300 sq metre parking deck can hold 450 cars and 750 two-wheelers. It was built at a cost of approximately Rs 20 lakh. The parking deck above the station is connected to the road outside by a 2,400 square metre-wide ramp.

With Shirish Patel and Associates as its consultants and Ratan J Batliboi as its architects, the station is an example of how to integrate hundreds of cars and two-wheelers into a station building. It has 5 platforms to accommodate 12-car local trains, 2 pedestrian subways and 1 vehicular subway. It was officially inaugurated on June 12, 2004.

The buck stops here

Milind Mhaiskar, Joint Commissioner of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) Ltd

Why is the Station Area Traffic Improvement Scheme, or Satis, so modest?
The stations could have been re-developed as comprehensive transport hubs in one go. Satis is not about developing stations. It is about decongesting traffic and pedestrian movement for the easy interchange of commuters. It has the specific aim of quickly dispersing crowds outside busy stations by building a network of skywalks and pedestrian bridges for faster entry and exit.

But don't you think that you could have de-congested the areas outside by accommodating the hawkers and shopkeepers inside?
For this, however, a more holistic plan would have been needed. If you develop stations as retail hubs, you could also use the money you get from leasing out property to fund the construction of new facilities.

Yes. But the Mumbai Urban Transport Project is a Rs 4,500-crore comprehensive infrastructure project, partly funded by a World Bank loan, and has a predetermined model of financing. Satis is a part of it. So what you are suggesting cannot be done under this project. The railways, however, can do it independently.

Instead of the current model of financing, why have policymakers not thought about public-private co-operation to develop stations in Mumbai, the way it is being done at the national level for 22 key stations?
Like I said, Satis is part of a bigger project with a fixed form of financing.

Satis now includes just four of 103 stations on Mumbai's suburban railway network. Do you have plans to apply the same improvements to other stations?
We do not have a second phase for Satis. But the MMRDA has begun working on another project to develop 20 skywalks near major railway stations in Mumbai. This is on a similar pattern as Satis.

Satis was first conceived in 2002, but is still to get off the ground. When will you call for bids and when will the work be completed?
We will call for bids by the year-end. I agree things have been delayed for various reasons, but Satis should be completed by June 2010.

For more details: Check out the special on The Mumbai Project