Mumbai’s rail commuters pay a high human price for public transport

At the height of the Mumbai rush hour getting on to a train is like trying to find somewhere to sit in a rugby scrum. On the platforms anyone wearing spectacles carefully puts them away. Travellers take a big breath and push forward into the tightly packed crowd, finally gaining a toehold on the running board, their bodies leaning outwards. To survive for up to four hours a day crushed into their compartments, passengers come prepared and groups of friends form. Some sing, others play the stock market or cards. The best organised take turns occupying seats. “We spend so much time and we know each other so well we even organise picnics at the weekend,” says Yogesh Sapkale, deputy editor on the magazine Money Life. Mumbai is India ‘s most populated city and with 7.5 million riders a day its trains are the most overloaded in the world, as even the Ministry of Railways acknowledges. Rail traffic has increased sixfold in the past 40 years, but capacity has only doubled. Meanwhile the city’s population, estimated at 20 million, has soared. It is twice as dense as New York. It is so difficult to build new railway lines in such a densely occupied space that one of the few ways of increasing capacity is to add carriages and run trains faster. For Mumbaikars trains are an essential means of transport. During the rush hour the only alternative would be to take a car, travelling at under 8km/ph on barely serviceable roads, particularly during the monsoon. The jammed traffic moves so slowly that enterprising spirits broadcast adverts from loudspeakers mounted on three-wheelers. It would be quicker to walk but the distances are too great, the urban area stretches 120km from north to south. Mumbai is on the verge of seizing up. Built on a peninsula, it can only develop northwards. But its original centre and economic heart is at the southern tip, a cul de sac where property values are rocketing. To find affordable homes, the middle classes have no option but to invest in residential complexes north of the city, with poor links to the centre. So the rail network really is a life line, though 10 to 12 riders perish every day. Some climb onto train roofs and are electrocuted, others fall off overloaded carriages or are crushed by engines as they scuttle across the tracks. Despite the 20 to 25 accidents registered daily trains always run on time. They are so punctual that a television journalist was able to broadcast live for two hours overlooking an injured rider lying between the rails in the middle of a station. Meanwhile about 20 trains thundered over the victim. read the full article: