Crowded trains is a reality most Mumbaiites, although grudgingly, live with for years. So, why doesn’t the situation get any better over the years?
The answer, experts say, is quite simple and evident. Since 2001, areas such as Thane, Vasai-Virar, Navi Mumbai and Mira Road-Bhayander, which were earlier perceived as far-flung, witnessed tremendous growth. Parel, Andheri, Goregaon and Kanjurmarg-Powai became the emerging commercial hubs. But the focus of the suburban train operations remains the same – Churchgate and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST).
The railway network acts as the link between the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) and Mumbai and caters to more than 70 lakh commuters daily. In the past few years, business and commercial activities have shifted or expanded to the suburbs owing to the lower rents compared to Nariman Point or Bandra-Kurla Complex. The new commercial centres on the western railway (WR) are Lower Parel-Elphinstone belt, Bandra, Andheri and Goregaon; and Parel, Kurla, Vikhroli-Kanjurmarg belt, Airoli, Vashi and Belapur on the central railway (CR).
Consequently, the travel pattern of a substantial number of commuters has changed. The commute is no more north to south in the morning and south to north in the evening. Some of the CST- and Churchgate-bound trains are less crowded, especially after Parel and Wadala on the CR and Lower Parel on the WR, according to the data collected by transport activist Gaurang Damani.
The data on sale of tickets at stations on the central railway (CR) and western railway (WR) over the past four years, too, show a growth in the number of commuters in the suburbs and not the city.
The number of daily passengers at CST has dropped to 5.16 lakh in 2015-16 from 6.94 lakh in 2012-13, bringing down the number of tickets sold daily for the corresponding years to 1.16 lakh from 1.27 lakh daily. Similar situation was seen at Dadar. On the contrary, Kurla, Ghatkopar, Thane, Diva and Kalyan witnessed a rise in the number of passengers and sale of tickets.
The number of tickets sold daily at Churchgate dropped to 1.05 lakh from 1.36 lakh in 2011, whereas Nalasopara recorded a rise in sales from 1.67 lakh in 2011 to 2.14 lakh in 2015, and Virar from 1.59 lakh to 1.90 lakh.
A similar pattern has been witnessed in population growth. While Vasai-Virar witnessed the highest population growth (76.33%) on the WR route, Mira Road and Bhayander saw 55.57% growth.
Taking the rise in population and changing trend into account, transport experts want the authorities to rearrange the suburban services and shift the focal point.
Experts feel this could be done by developing more termini at emerging commercial hubs, so trains can originate and be terminated at intermediate stations, instead of sending all trains to Churchgate or CST.
“The passenger and ticket sales data show a northward shift in passenger movement. So railways should consider starting and terminating trains at Dadar and Bandra,” said Gaurang Damani, member of the divisional railway users’ consultative committee (DRUCC), who conducted a study on the pattern.
Activists said there is a need to create termini at upcoming business districts namely Mahalaxmi, Dadar, Bandra, Andheri, Kurla and Thane.
“The travel pattern of suburban passengers has undergone a change and there is a need to make operational changes to match the growing demand,” said Ashok Datar, transport expert.
Mukul Jain, divisional railway manager, Mumbai division, WR, said, “There is a need to restructure the timetables of trains. It is a gradual process that can be undertaken in phases over a period of two-three years after consulting all stakeholders. It will also need upgrade of infrastructure including putting a new crossover and signalling system.”
Ravinder Goyal, divisional railway manager, Mumbai division, CR, said, “Cutting down the services to CST is not immediately desirable, but we can definitely consider of introducing new services from Dadar, Kurla and
Thane. This will be possible only after completion of the fifth and sixth lines on the Thane-Diva and Kurla-CST stretch.”