For all those who miss the good old days when the local train was a place to put up tired feet and watch the rest of the world rushing about, there is good news. No, trains are not going to get less crowded — that, and even the earlier image in the opening sentence is part of a dream sequence in the mind of the harassed commuter, or a myth handed down by older generations, but life on the track seems to be easing up.
Don’t get me wrong.
Since the first time, when I stood unsuspectingly on the platform while a train drew up at Ghatkopar where I was visiting a relative, and found that boarding was an involuntary action propelled by the waiting hordes rushing in, till the days when I owned a three-way pass and traversed the city’s length and breadth chasing stories for my magazine, I have been a sincere lover of the local train.
There is, despite the discomfort and the sweat, and often tears and sometimes agony, an excitement in seeing life on the move up close and so personal! And the rat-a-tat of the rails is a music I never tire of.
But verily, I wonder if the mellowness I feel towards travelling by train is not tinged with nostalgia, or coloured by the rose of distance from the experience.
The commuter who, day in day out, has to find a foothold in a train that bulges at the very joints will have quite a different story to tell.
Of that I am sure.
But the good news, to come back to it, is that things are changing. Some things.
Like roomier compartments, which started replacing the old prison-like and claustrophobic ones quite some time ago. The fact that one does not have to hang out of the door, playing hit or miss with electric poles to get some breeze, is respite indeed.
But equally traumatic as a packed train is the fact that buying a ticket means endless lines. The coupon system did not do too well… Machines to punch them would die without warning, and rubber stamping them meant another line, another tussle.
But the smart commuter who owns the smart card, seems to be
smiling. Perhaps the fact that one branch of the Railways has introduced the card and operated it successfully has made it a must do across other branches. Result, fewer lines, less tension riled people in a hurry.
Now all it needs is for train users to also get smart, treat the monsters that carry them to and fro as their own. And do their bit to ensure safe travel in well maintained compartments.
Running a suburban rail system is an act of precision management of time and resources, and the many branches of Indian Railways seem to have managed to get it right, most of the time, making us one of the world’s best networks. The Mumbai suburban system is a microscopic focus on the complex machinations that go into a good train service.
And now, those who are in charge of this complex machine seem to have decided to make things even
better. Hurrah to that!