The collapse of the central and harbour line train services on Wednesday and the subsequent trouble and accident on Thursday underline how vulnerable the city is when it is so heavily dependent on the rail network.
There is no guarantee that some trouble like this won’t recur, say experts. The trains stop working three to four times every monsoon because of flooded tracks or other issues. The 70 lakh Mumbaiites who use the rail network every day, however, have no mass transport systems to use as alternatives.
“We are so dependent on the railway system that we have never thought of alternative transport systems. In Hong Kong, for instance, despite having a world-class Metro, a lot of commuters use buses. We should develop an alternative transport system,” said Ashok Datar, transport expert.
Though the BEST is an efficient service and about 40 lakh people use it, it cannot accommodate another 70 lakh commuters, though on Wednesday and Thursday it ran additional services.
During peak hours, at least 4,500 passengers travel in a 9-car rake, while around 5,300 climb into 12-car rakes. This is more than double the capacity of these trains. That’s the volume transported by trains, which run at a frequency of two to three minutes during peak hours.
“Imagine what happens when such over-crowded trains come to a halt during peak hours,” said a senior railway official, requesting anonymity.
“The government provides a few BEST buses, which cannot cater to even one-fourth of the crowd. One bus can carry up to 80 to 100 people. The fact is that there is no alternative system because of which the city’s transportation system collapses if the trains come to a halt.”
“Mumbai needs additional modes of transport such as the Metro, monorail, BRTS and rail-based east-west connectivity,” said a former railway official, on condition of anonymity.
What made it worse this week is that despite being warned of extended disruption, the state government had no contingency plan.
The state and central governments have planned several transport infrastructure projects that can reduce the dependence on the rail network, but not one of these projects is complete, thanks to faulty planning, lack of political will, environmental and rehabilitation issues, among other things.