Commuter woes sour Karjat-Kasara residents’ dream | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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Commuter woes sour Karjat-Kasara residents’ dream

Dec 11, 2023 07:00 AM IST

Both CSMT-Karjat and CSMT-Kasara routes are serviced by the Central Railways (CR), which runs around 400 suburban locals between Karjat/ Kasara and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT) in Mumbai. But these trains are hardly enough to cater to the swelling tide of commuters

Mumbai: When Prafulla Shevale bought an apartment in Titwala, located on the fringes of Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), nearly two decades ago, two factors influenced his decision. The price of real estate in the up-and-coming suburb was far lesser than in Mumbai city, located nearly 60 km away, and local train connectivity between Titwala and his office in Thane was fairly regular, with none of the rush characteristic of Mumbai locals.

Kalyan, India - January 28, 2021: The Kalyan station road has all types of vehicles flowing throughout the day leading to congestion during peak hours. Under the smart city project, SATIS will be imposed to decongest the station premises in Kalyan, India, on Thursday, January 28, 2021. (Photo by Rishikesh Choudhary/ HT PHOTO) (HT PHOTO)
Kalyan, India - January 28, 2021: The Kalyan station road has all types of vehicles flowing throughout the day leading to congestion during peak hours. Under the smart city project, SATIS will be imposed to decongest the station premises in Kalyan, India, on Thursday, January 28, 2021. (Photo by Rishikesh Choudhary/ HT PHOTO) (HT PHOTO)

But now, thanks to Titwala’s status as a hub for affordable housing, Shevale’s daily commute of 40 minutes has become a struggle.

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“I take the local during peak hours every day, between 7.15am and 7.30am, and struggle to get my foot inside the first-class compartment. In fact, I can’t recall a single day in the recent past when the journey was comfortable,” said the engineer. The situation wasn’t so bad even ten years ago, he added – he always found space to stand inside the compartment even during the morning rush hour.

Like Shevale, around 6-8 lakh commuters who reside along the Kalyan-Karjat and Kalyan-Kasara routes have been enduring overcrowded trains and gruelling journeys. Both routes are serviced by the Central Railways (CR), which runs around 400 suburban locals between Karjat/ Kasara and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT) in Mumbai. But these trains are hardly enough to cater to the swelling tide of commuters.

In fact, the number of local trains between Mumbai and the 25 stations along the two routes have stayed nearly the same over the past five years, while the population in the region has increased manifold. Although work is underway to augment the railway network along these routes, it is marred by cost overruns and delays, and is unlikely to be completed before a few years. Meanwhile, passenger associations, which have time and again demanded additional train services and stations along these routes, are threatening to hold protests, to ensure their voices are heard.

Affordable real estate hub

Between July and September this year, 8,399 housing units were sold in the Karjat-Kasara region north of Kalyan, while 10,938 new units were added to inventory, according to a report by Liases Foras, an independent non-broking real estate firm. These figures were second only to that in greater Mumbai, where 8,537 housing units were sold and 9,489 units were added during the quarter.

The Kalyan-Karjat-Kasara region includes micro-markets like Diva, Shahapur, Titwala, Neral, Karjat, Asangaon, Badlapur and Ambernath. The average price of real estate in this stretch ranges 3,482–4,955 per square feet, which is considered affordable for mid-income and lower mid-income groups.

“The population in the region has grown 7-8 times compared to the previous census figures. The primary reason for this is affordable housing,” said Dinesh Joshi, president of the Neral-Karjat chapter of the National Real Estate Development Council. Crediting developers in the region for giving a push to affordable projects, he said one room kitchen homes were priced at 11-15 lakh, 1 BHK apartments at 15-25 lakh, and 2 BHK at 25-45 lakh.

“So, someone living on rent in Mumbai can easily pay a monthly instalment equivalent of the rent and own a rightful home in this region,” said Joshi.

No increase in services

Over the years, the number of people staying in areas like Titwala, Asangaon, Ambernath, Badlapur and Karjat have gone up substantially and so have the number of commuters dependant on local trains. But services of suburban trains have not kept pace with this growth. For instance, CR runs 140 services on CSMT-Kasara route and 240 services on CSMT-Karjat route, while the number of services between Kalyan-Kasara and Kalyan-Karjat stands at 152 and 242, respectively. The number of services between Kalyan-Kasara eight years ago, in 2015, was nearly the same at 147. Though data for the other stretches was not available, commuters said no new services has been introduced on these routes for several years.

Consequently, it is common to find a sea of commuters waiting on platforms and on elevated concourses in railway stations along the two routes. In recent years, commuters have also voiced demands for new railway stations along both routes. For instance, passengers have been demanding a station at Guravli on the Kasara line and at Chamtoli on the Karjat line.

Infrastructure woes

CR authorities said adding more suburban services or new stations on the two routes was practically very difficult in the short term. Doing either would adversely affect the average speed of trains as well as increase the travel time, which would not only extend train schedules but also lead to cancellation of suburban trains.

“Increase in frequency of trains on the Kalyan-Kasara and Kalyan-Karjat/Khopoli routes is not feasible at present,” said Shivraj Manaspure, chief public relations officer, CR. He said work on augmenting the rail network was underway, and Kalyan station as well as the rail corridors beyond Kalyan were being remodelled to ease the situation in future.

But, these projects have massive budgets and are already affected by delays. For instance, the Mumbai Rail Vikas Corporation secured the forest department’s permission to initiate work on lines 3 and 4 between Kalyan and Badlapur on November 29 after waiting for several years. The project, costing 1,553.87 crore, is likely to be completed by December 2026. Similarly, work on the third line between Kalyan and Kasara has been underway for several years, but only 70% of the land has been acquired. The project costs 793 crore and is likely to be ready in two years.

Passenger concerns

The 6-8 lakh commuters from the Kalyan-Karjat-Kasara region comprise nearly one-fifth of the 39-40 lakh commuters who depend on the Central Railway’s main and harbour lines. Rail passenger’s associations have repeatedly raised this point in their meetings with authorities to substantiate their demand for additional services and stations.

“The railways need to address growing passenger numbers at every station. The issue of cancelling train services continues, which is causing hardship to commuters as the wait period goes up. The railways should improve crowd control measures, build more escalators, elevators and foot over bridges to ease the situation,” said Nandkumar Deshmukh, president, Federation of Suburban Railway Passengers Association.

The federation and others passenger’s associations have also become restive in recent months and have threatened to stage protests if demands for more services are not met in a timely manner. This has at times compelled CR authorities to at least be seen in action.

For instance, on December 2, three days after Deshmukh and other representatives from passenger’s bodies met CR’ general manager RK Yadav with their demands, he visited Kalyan station to oversee progress on the remodelling work.

Some pending jobs at Kalyan station were completed in a jiffy to welcome the official. But even then, it remained unclear when the work would be completed and when the woes of commuters in the region might end.

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