Local trains can go till Dahanu today and make the Churchgate-Dahanu suburban connectivity a reality. Tracks have been readied, bridges are being strengthened and platforms set. In anticipation of the local train, builders have bought every inch of plot, jacked up prices and are awaiting the train.
But what is stopping the Western Railway from starting it? There are a few practical problems.
There are just two tracks between Virar and Dahanu. These tracks today cater to mail-express national trains and valuable goods and cargo trains from JNPT and other local ports in addition to Panvel-Virar-Dahanu shuttles.
When the Churchgate-Dahanu local trains start, they will run on the same tracks, creating congestion and jams. They will cut down the national trains and connectivity with no space left for more trains.
They will also over-utilise the two tracks, collapse the arithmetic of the limited number of local trains and coaches that run between Churchgate and Virar.
Commuters say these are all technical problems and the railways should have known it before they announced Dahanu trains.
So what is the solution? It was in the late 199Os that Dahanu was declared as a suburban section by then railway minister Ram Naik. After the announcement more than a decade ago, there was no follow-up planning and vision. The focus moved to improving the quality of trains and upgradation of electric power.
It would have been ideal instead to insist on including quadrupling (four-tracking) of the Virar-Dahanu section in the first or at least the second phase of the World Bank-funded Mumbai Urban Transport Project, which would have speeded up the process, offering a practical solution to the problem.
But the Western Railway failed and so did the railway think tank, the Mumbai Railway Vikas Corporation.
Lack of sustained planning and vision among the top railway officials who take Mumbai postings for pride for three years has left the city’s railway planning in doldrums. A small bit is done here and there but there does not seem to be a coordinated effort and macro vision.
Under pressure, the railways may squeeze in a few Dahanu locals, but it will again remain a scattered effort in the whole mega mess of planning.
Existing projects on the Western Railway, like converting all trains into 12-car locals and upgrading of electric power, too seem have lost steam. Western Railway’s new general manager Mahesh Kumar is a Guinness Book Record Holder for a railway feat, but in Mumbai, he seems to have been caught up in petty matters like inaugurating cafes and galleries. He is yet to set his priorities and announce his plans for Mumbaikars. It is time Kumar took charge.