The year 2013 was a watershed for the suburban railways. This year, both Central and Western railways hit new passenger marks. CR became the first suburban system in the country to cross the 40-lakh passenger-per-day mark to touch 40.3 lakhs. WR hit the 35-lakh passenger-per-day mark. Its current daily figure stands at 35.55 lakhs.
On days like Raksha Bandhan or Diwali, train commuters get a taste of the madness that awaits them in 2020. On Raksha Bandhan (Tuesday) , CR believes it carried a whopping 53 lakh passengers, 30% higher than the daily average. WR also carried close to 40 lakh passengers that day.
With people flocking into the city unabated and parallel modes of transport like metro and monorail expected to decongest certain sections, railway planners say, by 2020, these figures might become the norm rather than the exception.
A study conducted last year by the railways peggedthe cost of adding 517 km rail lines and 266 rakes at Rs52,167 crore. Of this, Rs 20,000 crore are set to be spent between 2011 and 2012 for 202 km of tracks and 107 trains. Even this may not be enough to end the problem. The railways and the state could not agree on how to finance projects last year.
At the centre of the debate is item 3.3 (g) of the Indian Railway Vision 2020 document. It clearly states that ‘partnership with state authorities will be necessary for the development of suburban rail systems’.
The word partnership is the problem. “For railways, it means finances; for the state government, it means ‘giving all support to building a rail line, what we officially call the State Support Agreement’,” said a senior railway official. The Mumbai Rail Vikas Corporation (MRVC) wants civic bodies along the route to levy taxes and collect funds. The state wants the railways to do that.
The idea that Mumbai thrives on commercial development of land has been something that has just not taken off with the railways. Despite grand plans to convert railway land — 430 million sq metres nationwide — into money-spinning commercial complexes, not an inch of land in the city has actually been monetised. Prime among them is a 45,000 sq m plot near the Bandra station.
The railways and the state are fighting over its ownership.
MRVC, the agency co-ordinating the city’s rail modernisation efforts, has also charted out an elaborate land development plan by starting something called the ‘best use option’ survey. The survey wants to ascertain the commerical value of railway land and the impact its development would have on adjoining civil infrastructure.
The first of the five plots the MRVC is surveying are Mulund (W), Bhandup (E), Thane, Chinchpokli and Currey Road.
“It’s a catch-22 situation. The railways wants to develop land to finance projects.
The problem is these land parcels are at stations which are in the midst of some of the biggest urban nightmares. For example, how does one develop the plot at Mulund (W) when roads there are so congested. Wouldn’t such development choke the station?” said a senior MRVC official.
According to Dr PC Sehgal, former MD of MRVC, the most cost-effective solution might be the 15-coach train. “If the fast corridor on both CR and WR is converted from 12-coach to 15-coach, we are looking at a 33% capacity increase. The infrastructure to run 15-coach trains is already there on both WR and CR and the new rakes coming in are configured to have a maximum of 18 coaches. In 1986, we started the first 12-coach train. It was only a couple of years ago, all nine-coach trains were converted into 12-coach on mainline and WR. This time, it shouldn’t take such a long time,” said Sehgal.