Thinking out loud

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Metro and a proud Indian

Last year, on a trip to the US, I had been thoroughly impressed by the New York Metro rail system. The train coaches, etc were nothing to marvel about. They were simple enough. However, the impressive part was the way the system worked and the little thoughtful features that were part of the system. Inside each compartment, there was a map of the route that the train would follow so you would know how many stops there were to your destination. To the regular commuter, it is not a problem but for someone who travels occasionally, it can be a boon. For comparison, the few of the coaches in the Mumbai Local Train system carry such a map (this is not to say that I’m not a big fan of the local trains in Mumbai, but more on that in some other post). As the train approached each stop, there were announcements for the next stop and there were gentle reminders for people to stand away from doors, etc. The stations themselves were pretty nice. There were swipe-cards to open doors to get onto platforms and you could check the balance on your cards and could also get them “recharged”. Many had said then that I would find it hard to live again in India. I had contested that statement strongly and yesterday I got more support for my stand.

I happened to travel on the Delhi Metro yesterday, and there wasn’t a prouder Indian. The least I can say is that I was thrilled. We have not only managed to create a system that equals local rail services elsewhere in the world, we have gone one better. The Metro system boasts of contact-less smartcards for getting onto platforms, instead of swipe-cards. The platforms, whether two levels above the road or two levels below, are immaculately built. It has more security deployed (at least visibly) than the New York metro. The station at Rajiv Chowk (near Cannaught Place), is absolutely world class. The coaches are of the highest quality, with route maps in each coach, announcements before every stop, air-conditioning and all inter-connected as a single standing place. Train frequencies are high, as high as one every 5 minutes on some routes during peak hours. Unfortunately, photography is prohibited on the stations and on the train otherwise I’d have gone trigger-happy and posted tens if not hundreds of pictures of the system.

The fact that this system is so fantastically built and is being run extremely well too, is a source of pride. However, the social impact of this system is, to my mind, fantastic too. The amount of mental (and physical) strain generated while traveling in Delhi can be appreciated only by doing so oneself. Before the Metro arrived (maybe they should start a new era, such as B.C. and A.D.), if you did not have your own car, you were stuck with traveling in DTC buses (which thankfully were converted to CNG a few years back) or in an auto-rickshaw. Needless to say, the smoke, traffic (with blaring horns), and oppressive Delhi heat would pretty much destroy any desire to travel. Even the thought of having to move out onto Delhi roads could be depressing. However, the Metro is a completely different story. Of course, I traveled not at peak traffic but pretty much late in the evening which might make me slightly more biased than one needs to be. For a person like me having something like the Metro means that I will fret much less if I have to travel. I will spend less time traveling (peak hours or not, the time of travel from point to point is constant on the Metro, unlike on the road where travel time could vary from 25 minutes to 2 hours on the same route). I will be much surer about how long it will take me to get to a place and hence I can make much more definite plans saving even more time for myself and others who I might have to meet with. In general, productivity of every individual increases significantly. At least some traffic on the roads is reduced. Obviously the amount of traffic reduction on the roads is not commensurate with the increase in traffic on the Metro simply because the propensity to travel increases. My guess is that significant amounts of employment are being generated, not to mention the number of businesses that must have been setup to support the Metro. As the Metro spreads through the city over the coming years, I hope they continue to function as they are now and help mitigate travel problems in the city. Further, I hope they provide us with the confidence that all is not lost and we can build systems even in this country that will let us compete with the best in the world. Meanwhile, one more point to India.


  • wonderful ! i'm waiting to get one (i.e. Metro) in Bombay ! 3 years more....3 years more..

    By Blogger Bombay Addict, at 1:58 AM  

  • Please Please Mumbaikars...look at the bigger picture and try to learn something from the mistake Delhi did. Well Delhi may be having a strong excuse for the mistake in form of Commonwealth Games, but why now Mumbai also??
    I understand how the the people of Mumbai are excited about Metro. But I feel that they should look at the bigger picture and try to realize that Metro is not a very feasible option. The best they can do is to learn from the Delhi Metro.
    All over the world metro rail,especially on elevated corridor, is considered as an outdated technology. Had the Metro been developed 20 years back when it was first planned, it would have been feasible. But now under the prsent scenario it just is a deceptive way of showing infrastructural development before the Commonwealth Games. The Metro is suffering losses for two years in a row, yet they are going ahead with this project. Soon when it will be time for changing the trains and maintainence DMRC will declare that it is broke. Then they will be running outdated trains and will go the Air India way. But no media will make this whole thing an issue till the Commonwealth Games. I personally did a lot of research and came up with some interesting facts and figures about DMRC. If you are interested you can read my article in Merinews. Here is the link:

    A strong public opinion can save Mumbai from going in the Delhi way.

    By Anonymous Sudipta Sengupta, at 1:21 AM  

  • Sudipta, as of today, Mumbaikars spend hours trying to get from East Mumbai to West Mumbai and vice versa, everyday. The number of man-hours wasted is incalculable. If you happen to watch the documentary series "Megacities" from NGC covering Mumbai, you'll realise the extremely bad situation Mumbai public transport is in and the deterioration that is happening. Apart from the Metro, even the sea link that is being built in bombay will cost huge amounts of money and it might not recover ANY money from the public as such. However, the sheer amount of productive manhours saved should pay off the price of the project fairly quickly.

    By Blogger Parijat, at 1:34 AM  

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