Mumbai needs a new rail network

Travel woes: Think afresh

A new RRTS may solve the travails of Mumbai suburban rail travel



There was a hue and cry immediately after the stampede that killed 22 people in the foot overbridge in Elphinstone Road suburban station on September 29.

The question that arises is: Despite traumatic travel, why are 75 lakh Mumbaikars still hooked to suburban rail, which is about 51 per cent modal share of Mumbai urban motorised travel? Mumbaikars travel 35 km per trip compared to 15-20 km of Delhi metro trip.

The local fast trains which operate at an average speed of 45-50 kmph and maximum speed of 120 kmph facilitate passengers’ long-distance trips.

Even the local slow trains operate at an average speed of 35 kmph and maximum speed of 85 kmph. No other mass transport system operating within city limits in India reaches the level of average speed of Mumbai suburban train travel, that includes Metro rail, whose average speed is about 30-35 kmph.

During peak hours, a nine car Mumbai suburban train, which can take 1700 passengers (about 4 persons per square meter), has been carrying 5000 passengers, (about 12 persons or even 14 to 16 passengers per square meter, which is defined as super dense crush load by Indian Railways), even though during peak hours, Mumbai Vikas Rail Corporation (MVRC) operates trains every 3 minutes, its maximum capacity.

Cost to decongest

If Mumbai suburban rail is a fast but unimaginably congested transport mode, how to decongest? MRVC has been augmenting some more lines on some specific routes in the conventional rail with an estimated cost of about ₹30,000 crore and increasing the number of train services.

Railway minister Piyush Goyal was in Mumbai on September 28, 2017 to flag off 100 new suburban train services. These measures will give some short-term relief for suburban rail passengers. In addition, Mumbai Metro Phase I, II and III and Mono rail to the tune of 200 km are either under operation or conceptual stage and construction. However, the routes chosen for Metro and monorail are not aligned along the suburban rail routes but complement the suburban rail and hence cater to Mumbaikars who have not availed rail travel so far.

However, even with all these urban rail transport projects, the congestions in suburban rail is not going to decrease in future. The existing RVNL network consisting of 319 route km, 876 running track km (part of which it shared to run non-suburban trains) and 104 stations can cater to 25 lakh passengers per day without congestion in any part of the suburban rail system.

Build a new network

The Mumbai suburban network has gone beyond serving its suburbs but extended to adjacent towns in the region, as Mumbai suburban trains now run beyond 100 km. There is a need to create a new urban rail network for 50 lakh passengers, which may well go up to one crore passengers in future along key stretches considering the recent changes in the travel pattern. It does not make much sense to develop such a transportation system on an outdated, conventional suburban rail.

The best fit for Mumbai Urban Agglomeration (MUA) is Regional Rapid Transit System (RRTS) like the one under implementation for National Capital Region (NCR) of Delhi. The first phase of RRTS of Delhi NCR will have three routes (Delhi-Meerut, Delhi- Alwar and Delhi-Panipat) amounting to 383 km with an average distance of 8 km between stations. In line with NCR RRTS, MUA RRTS should be designed to operate at a maximum speed of 180 kmph and average speed of about 90 kmph, along key corridors either on elevated tracks or underground tracks and seamlessly connecting with the suburban rail stations, Metro stations and BEST network. RRTS with an average speed of 90 kmph for urban travel will be fastest and safest mode is for intra urban travel and suitable for the demands of MUA passengers.

RRTS is a long gestation project where construction may even take 15 years or more and hence political parties across spectrum should commit themselves to the project for uninterrupted and quick execution. Given the fact that MUA contributes to 6 per cent of India’s GDP and 20 per cent of Maharashtra’s GDP, as much as NCR, MUA also deserves RRTS.

The writer is an independent consultant

Published on October 16, 2017