A comfortable ride in an air-conditioned train to office and back. This is what the average Mumbai commuter wants. But it’s a distant dream.
Will Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee use the Rail Budget, to be presented on Thursday, to make your train ride better? Mumbai’s commuters are watching with bated breath.
The priority, they said, should be increasing capacity on trains, and more trains on the tracks. There have been plans, they said, in previous budgets for an elevated railway and an air-conditioned train. But there’s nothing on the ground yet.
“We don’t want assurances, we want results. Mumbai is a city of dreams. That shouldn’t mean you show citizens dreams that never come true. Give the money that was promised to upgrade suburban rail services. The Congress’ ‘prince’, Rahul Gandhi, recently travelled in a local train. At least now the authorities should understand our plight,” said Subhash Gupta, of the Mumbai Yatri Sangh, a commuters’ organisation.
“The Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP) is taking care of the capacity issue. But the crowds are increasing so fast that it’s difficult to cope,” said a senior rail officer, on condition of anonymity.
On Central Railway (CR) alone, the number of passengers has gone from 26.14 lakh per day in 1999 to 35.92 lakh today. CR has increased the number of coaches from 9,963 to 14,742, due to which the average number of passengers per coach has fallen from 262 to 244.
“The problem is with the pace of MUTP — it’s excruciatingly slow. So much time is consumed in getting permissions. This leads to delays, which in turn raises costs. Once this happens, the project is stuck as there’s no additional money,” said Shailendra Kamble, of the Pravasi Adhikar Andholan Samiti, another commuters’ organisation.
“Besides the ongoing projects, we should also look at wider connectivity in Mumbai. The railways should move fast to improve connectivity between CR and Western Railway (WR),” said Shailesh Goel, of the Gujarat and Rajasthan Rail Users’ Welfare Association.
The Word Bank last week rapped the railways for not coordinating the project for new trains properly. A delay in procuring wheels pushed back the entire process of procuring trains. “The ministry should punish officials who delay such projects,” said Kamble. “Mumbai’s trains carry 70 lakh commuters every day. They are suffering because of delays caused by improper allocation of funds.”
A railway official said: “Rs 400 crore to Rs 800 crore is allocated every year so that MUTP stays on track. But we should be able to spend that much money before asking for more.”
The Mumbai Rail Pravasi Sangh, a commuter body, demanded that CR and WR be linked so that passengers don’t have to use road transport at all.