After a decade of planning and five years after work began, the trial of Mumbai’s first metro line, the Versova-Andheri Ghatkopar corridor, finally started on Wednesday, with chief minister Prithviraj Chavan flagging off the train at Versova station.
After coping with dug-up roads and traffic jams owing to metro construction work for half a decade, Mumbaiites living along this route can look forward to cutting down some of their commute this September, by when the Versova-Saki Naka stretch is expected to start running.
Compared to Bangalore, Mumbai is desperately behind schedule as far as the implementation of the metro is concerned. The first line of Bangalore metro, a 33-km elevated and underground network with 32 stations, was delayed by 19 months and was available for use in 2011. Mumbai’s first 11.4 km line is already three years behind schedule and is expected to be fully operational by December (only the Versova-Saki Naka stretch will be ready by September).
Chavan defended the delay by arguing that Mumbai’s case was unique. “There are hundreds of utilities running below the ground and each pillar had to be designed accordingly. To build a metro in such an area is an engineering feat,” he said.
The CM said he wanted the Centre to appoint a regulatory body to deal with hurdles faced by urban transport and infrastructure projects. “I have recommended to the Centre that there should be an appellate or regulatory authority that will monitor projects such as metro, waterways, roadways and toll, among other projects,” he said, adding that it should address issues such as delays, cost escalations, encroachments, land acquisitions and even fare hikes.
Decorated using white and purple flowers, the four-coach stainless steel metro rake slowly gained speed as it crossed two stations to reach Azad Nagar. The two-tier Versova station, which is being given finishing touches, too, was decorated for the occasion. Throughout the run, the police personnel and private security guards kept a strict vigil along the route.
This being the first public appearance of the rakes that entered the city almost two years ago, most people present on the top deck of the Versova station, including journalists, were seen clicking pictures using mobile phones.
“The trains, once functional, will help us reach Andheri station within few minutes,” said a local.
The Versova-AndheriGhatkopar corridor, one of the seven metro corridors planned for the city, is likely to be partially opened for public by October. The 11.40 km corridor, which will have 12 stations, is expected to improve east-west connectivity and ease pressure on the public transport.
“Flagging off the official trial run on the occasion of Maharashtra Day is an appropriate tribute to all workers, technicians, officials, engineers, who have worked hard to complete the work on the corridor,” said chief minister Prithviraj Chavan.
Guardian minister of Mumbai suburban district Naseem Khan, chief secretary of the state JK Banthia, MMRDA commissioner UPS Madan were among the officials present on the occasion.
“The trials have begun 1,886 days after the work on the project began. Seven deadlines have been missed so far,” said Anil Galgali, an RTI activist.
The commissioner of railway safety had not given permission for the trial run on Wednesday.