Local trains are Mumbai’s lifeline, ferrying an average of 61.95 lakh passengers daily.
And Mumbaikars’ long-awaited desire for an ‘air-conditioned local train’ became reality on December 25, 2017, when the country’s first and only AC suburban train embarked on its maiden journey from Borivali to Churchgate.
This ‘air-conditioned local train’ boasts state-of-the-art security features including automatic door closing, a talk-back system, and fire-fighting mechanisms in each coach. Despite a slow start in ridership, it gradually gained traction, becoming a favourite among commuters, especially during scorching summer months.
Since then, they’ve incorporated 79 new AC trains on Western Railway and 66 on Central Railway.
In its most recent update, Western Railway has introduced 17 new AC trains, bringing the total count to 96 AC trains operating on the western line. Through a social media announcement, WR stated, “Looking at the popularity and growing demand by the commuters, WR has decided to increase number of AC local services.”
However, like most public transport systems, AC trains do face some challenges.
Despite the introduction of these AC services, the overall number of services will remain constant at 1,394. The new AC trains haven’t been added as fresh additions; rather, they’ve replaced non-AC trains, maintaining the total count even as commuter numbers surge.
But as AC trains substitute non-AC ones, not everyone can afford the AC tickets, leading to overcrowding in general non-AC trains.
Responding to the railway authorities’ post on (Twitter) X, citizens took to social media, expressing discontent about the decision. Sampath K. Iyengar suggested, “Why not make all local trains AC and maintain separate classes like regular trains? Keep the general class at the same cost. Mumbai deserves this. Too many lives lost due to overcrowding.”
Peak hour rush
The peak hour of Mumbai local trains is generally in the morning from 7:30 am to 10:30 am and in the evening from 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm on weekdays. During these hours, the trains can be extremely crowded, making it difficult to board and alight.
The new AC trains added this month are mostly not in the peak hours when people need more trains.
As citizens voiced their concerns on Twitter (X) and addressed their grievances about peak hours to the railway authorities, commuter Santosh Patnaik suggested, “Additional trains should be included during morning rush hours, particularly between 9-11 am, and during the evening from 7-9 pm. Please consider these timings for new services.”
Meanwhile, another commuter, Darryl Machado, expressed frustration, stating, “This is utterly ineffective. No services added between Virar and Churchgate from 6 am to 9 am, crucial peak hours.”
High ticket price
The ticket cost of a non-AC local train is between Rs 5 to Rs 35 for a one-way journey and Rs 105 to Rs 500 for a month-long season ticket. Whereas the AC train travel ticket costs between Rs 35 to Rs 165 for a one-way commute and Rs 650 to Rs 3,150 for a month-long season ticket.
However, during the scorching summer season, the combination of intense heat, the affordability factor, and the replacement of non-AC trains with AC trains led to numerous incidents of people traveling without tickets on AC trains. In April of this year alone, the Western Railway reported a total of 6,353 passengers traveling without proper tickets.
As per the WR from January to June, it made a total Rs 1.22 crore revenue out of fines. Whereas from April till June 2023, the CR made Rs 31.92 lakh respectively, with a total of Rs 1.52 crore. The previous year in the same period it made Rs 17.79 lakh.
A commuter Darshan Jian said, “Running AC trains doesn’t yield any benefit. Individuals without tickets board them, while those with expensive valid tickets are left waiting on the platform. That’s the harsh reality.”
Aligning with metro
Presently, 4% of suburban commuters opt for AC local train services, contributing 22% of the revenue. The increase in services caters to the rising demand and the evolving transport landscape, especially with the Metro’s concurrent operation.
According to the railway authorities, Mumbai’s railway services aspire to match the comfort and safety standards offered by the Metro. This alignment coincides with the launch of Metro Line 2A and 7 from Andheri to Dahisar, aiming to sustain long-term passenger ridership.
City’s first metro called ‘Mumbai Metro One’ that runs between Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar completed nine years’ of operation on June 8 this year. It was Mumbai’s first public transport system that provided the comfort of air conditioned travel to Mumbaikars, who were used to travelling in jam packed suburban trains.
The 11.40 km long service that was thrown open to public in 2014 ferries over 4 lakh passengers every day.
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When AC locals re-started after lockdown, the Central Railways registered remarkable losses. The service saw only 836 ticketed passengers and 11,363 monthly pass holders, generating a mere revenue of Rs 4,67,250. This translated to an average of only 379 passengers daily.
Battles to board the local train
Following the lockdown, numerous workplaces resumed operations, prompting individuals to seek affordable public transportation. Despite the eased restrictions, Mumbai’s primary mode of public transport, the suburban local trains, remained accessible solely to ‘essential workers’ through a QR code-based electronic pass system available exclusively through their respective organisations.
Emergency medical rooms at every railway station will save lives say passengers
The bustling railway platforms of the Mumbai suburban railway system bear witness to numerous incidents of medical emergencies. With a vast number of commuters using the local train network, some or the other health crises are common on railway stations and inside the train compartments too.
The railway authorities manage the suburban railways – central, harbour and western – with more than 72 lakh commuters on a daily basis. However, they struggle with inadequate emergency medical facilities even as they try to provide urgent attention to patients every day.