Mumbai’s local trains are in many ways a defining feature of the city. There is almost no one who has lived in the city, who has not traveled by the local trains. While most of the inhabitants gripe and grumble about the train service, everyone appreciates how impossible life would be without it. Here are 15 astonishing facts about Mumbai’s local trains that you should know of:
Mumbai’s local train network today is actually a part of history. It is a part of what was the first railway network to be built, not just in India, but the whole of Asia. The infrastructure was built by the British and the first train on the continent ran between Thane and Bori Bunder stations, the latter that was rebuilt as Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, which still stands proud to this day. The momentous first train journey took place on the 16th of April, in 1853, along a 34 km route.
When most people think of Mumbai’s local trains they tend to think of trains plying from Churchgate to Borivali, or from Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus to Thane. But, the rail network is a little more complicated than that with various meandering routes, the city’s ever-expanding suburbs, and different railway corridors. The total length of rail lines that form the local network adds up to over 400 kms.
Mumbai locals are rightly called the lifeline of the city, with almost all of the city’s inhabitants relying on them to get to work or other destinations at some point of time. Many of them rely on these services on a daily basis. This is why Mumbai Suburban Railways operates over 2,300 train services every single day.
Mumbai’s local rail network is the busiest commuter train system in the world; with 7.5 million people using the trains to commute daily, it is no surprise that overcrowding, here, reaches epic proportions. However, this is no mean feat, considering that the railways manage to ferry more people each day than you will find in an entire country like Switzerland or Bhutan. Annually, the local railways transport 2.2 billion passengers, which is about a third of the world’s population.
Mumbai’s local trains rarely stop functioning and they do not get much of a rest. Each night the railway lines will only fall silent for a brief interval of one and a half hour, between 2:05 am, when the last train pulls into Borivali, and 4:15 am, when the first trains sets out from Churchgate. On the Central line too, the last train reaches Karjat at 2:45 am, while the first train leaves from Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus at 4:12 am.
Mumbai’s local train network doesn’t ply along a single line, but is divided into 4 corridors to cater to the vast urban sprawl of the city. The Western Line, which stretches from Churchgate to Dahanu Road covers 120 km; the Central Line stretches across 54 km, from CST to Kalyan, where it branches out, with the line going to Kasara taking an additional 67 km, and the line that carries on to Khopoli adding another 61 km; the Harbor Line connects Andheri to CST and is just 49 km long; the Trans-Harbour Line, which is the most recent addition connects Thane with Navi Mumbai and runs a length of just 20 km.
Despite the colossal scale of operations, Mumbai’s railways manage to ensure excellent connectivity, with local trains plying between all the major and minor stations at regular intervals. There is never an interval of more than 4-5 minutes between train arrivals and departures, ensuring minimal waiting time.
While travelling in the general compartments or ladies compartments of Mumbai’s locals there’s an unwritten rule when it comes to seating. Despite the design of seats for 3 people it is normal for everyone to squeeze tight to accommodate a fourth person. To not do so, will be considered rude and on rare occasions can lead to arguments. The fourth seat is uncomfortable, as you’re practically falling off, but it beats having to stand for an hour or more.
To most outsiders, Mumbai is best defined not by its skyscrapers and malls, but by its local trains and dabbawalas. Yes, they are both an integral part of the city, as Mumbaikars cannot function without their food. Dabbawalas who practically run the city’s food delivery service depend primarily on the city’s local trains to get to their various destinations.
Mumbai has borne the brunt of several disasters and terrorist attacks, including bomb blasts in 1993, 2003, and 2006. Most recently, the network also came under attack when terrorists opened fire at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, killing 60 commuters in 2008. Despite the brutality and enormous damage caused by all of the attacks, train services have always resumed swiftly, helping restore normalcy during troubled times. It took just three hours for service to be restored after the deadly train bombings of 2006.
Mumbai’s local trains are accessible to all, preserving the welcoming ethos of the city. Although housing and many other services in India’s biggest metropolis may now be unaffordable to many, traveling is still fairly easy thanks to the low pricing of tickets. Fares for Mumbai locals are among the cheapest in the world, with commuters travelling distances of around 120 km for as little as Rs. 30, which is less than 50 cents in American cents.
For anyone willing to shell out a little more for the comfort of cushioned seating and smaller crowds there are also first class compartments on each train. At peak hours, there is little respite from the crowds however, whether you travel by first or general class. Mumbai’s rail network is apparently the only local one to have a separate first class compartment.
Mumbai’s local trains give a whole new meaning to the concept of overcrowding. Trains are literally overflowing during peak hours, with commuters spilling out of the doors, windows and every nook and cranny. Wherever you can get a foothold, or even a toehold, you will find someone hanging on. Despite the impeccable railway service, Mumbai’s infrastructure is stretched and is ill-equipped to handle her burgeoning population. Sadly, commuters are forced to take big risks, gambling with their lives, just to get to work on time. It isn’t uncommon to see commuters climbing onto the tops of trains or sitting on the narrow connecting-pipes, between coaches.
The overcrowding and associated dare-devilry of Mumbai’s train commuters may be fascinating, but there is a huge price that they pay. Every year, almost 2000 people are killed along the rail network. In the decade of 2002-12, 36,512 people lost their lives, while 36,688 were injured. Many of these fatalities result from people crossing tracks, but a huge number also result from commuters falling out of crowded trains and due to electrocution when travelling on the roofs of trains.
To outsiders, talk of ‘superfast’ or ‘slow’ trains can be quite confusing, especially when it is fairly obvious that all of the trains travel at roughly the same speed. These terms are used to describe the type of service, with ‘slow’ trains halting at all stations, ‘fast locals’ skipping certain stations, and so on. In a busy city like Mumbai's, every minute counts and trains that are classified as ‘superfast’ or ‘double-fast’ could save you as much as 15-20 minutes. In addition, there are also a few ‘Ladies Special’ trains that run along scheduled routes at fixed intervals.
The next time you decide to commute using Mumbai’s local trains keep all of this in mind and be more appreciative of the service, which is a remarkable feat in itself. At the same time, exercise caution and always give due importance to your safety and wellbeing. If you aren’t used to Mumbai’s locals, simply avoid travelling in them during peak hours.