Long-harassed Mumbai commuters have been ushered into new era of world-class travel with the country's first Monorail.
For the people used to dirty, cramped, uncomfortable - though extremely reliable - suburban trains and BEST buses, the Monorail is like a breath of fresh air on the 8.9-km-long journey.
After a series of successful trials, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan inaugurated the government's show-piece project Saturday evening and it was thrown open to public from Sunday.
The shining and colourful skyblue-soft pink-refreshing green cars with streaks of black and white, the clean railway platforms and the air-conditioned environs of the trains left most of the first viewers in awe and silence.
The train interiors are equally striking - mostly in pastel shades with large windows offering awesome multi-dimensional views and comfortable and uncluttered seating arrangements.
The stations - not too large area-wise - are also spotless, at least for now! They are located at a minimum height of around 5.5 metres or around 20-feet - and much higher in some locations - at present accessed by staircases. Escalators would be operational soon.
As the Monorail zooms across a section of southeast Mumbai in its first phase, the hitherto unseen aerial view above the treetops, tall skyscrapers dotting its path as well as large slum pockets, cinemas and residential complexes, the RCF oil refinery, the snaky Eastern Freeway and of course, the Arabian Sea, are well worth the 20-minute ride.
From both sides during the journey, the large tracts of darkish green-grey mangroves, gardens and golf courses, the hazy hillocks in the eastern side of the city as well as the mainland, Thane Creek (which separates Mumbai island from the mainland), big and small lakes and other water bodies are a visual delight for commuters.
Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority joint director D. Kawathkar said that on its 8.9 km route, the Monorail presently will halt at seven stations: Wadala, Bhakti Park, Mysore Colony, BPCL, Fertiliser Township, VNP-RC Marg Junction and Chembur.
These are some of the thickly-populated areas which are not adequately serviced by the regular Western Railway, Central Railway and its Harbour Line. The aerial Monorail, running at speeds between 31 and 80 kmph, will be a boon and help de-congest the roads below.
With the first phase already the cynosure of the city eyes, MMRDA is hurrying to complete the second phase that will connect Wadala to Sant Gadage Maharaj Chowk.
Thus, it will offer 19.17 km of southeast connectivity between Sant Gadage Maharaj Chowk-Chembur, with 17 stations en route - and catapult it on the the second longest corridor on the world Monorail map.
The longest is Japan's Osaka Monorail corridor at 23.8 km and the present second is the Tokyo Monorail at 16.9 km.
The Mumbai Monorail was constructed for around Rs.3,000 crore, against the Osaka Monorail which cost Rs.12,690 crore.
The fare structure for the Mumbai Monorail will be Rs.5-19, while the Osaka Monorail charges between $2-4.50 (Rs.125-325).
Mumbai, with a population of around 17 million (2011 Census) goes on its dizzying move daily with around seven million souls commuting by the suburban trains and another three million by the BEST buses, taxis, auto-rickshaws and private vehicles - a phenomenon perhaps unmatched anywhere in the world.
With the Monorail and the soon-to-be-launched Metro Rail, Mumbai's urban infrastructure is expected to undergo a sea change, offering cool comforts at elevated and underground levels over the next few years - giving the country's commercial capital the world-class touch it has lacked.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at email@example.com)