Rohit Jain, a textile merchant who works at Marine Lines, enjoyed his first trip inside the air conditioned local train on December 25, it’s inaugural day. Taking the ride with his father, he was pleased to see the 12.24 pm local from Borivali, which he regularly takes, transform into an AC train.
Jain was, however, quick to realise that the AC train could only be a joyride and not a daily affair. “My father and I rushed to the ticket counter to get ourselves monthly passes for the train. The train has limited services in a day. Why would I want to spend 1.3 times on a train which does not ply when I am returning home from work. It is not about affordability, but convenience,” he said.
The city welcomed the first AC local with much fanfare last week. Thousands of regular commuters on the Western Railway were amazed to see a train with automatic doors and AC, a cherished change that cuts out excessive crowd and unpleasant odour on the daily railway route. The local train had catered to an average of 80 lakh daily commuters, who braved severely crowded compartments and smelly stretches. Now air-conditioned, the coaches are visibly cleaner. Its closed doors ensure safety during travel and commuters can talk to the motorman or the guard from the coaches. Railway personnel are also at hand to assist commuters.
However, commuters on local trains in the city may have to learn and unlearn a few things in order to enjoy the cooler rides. They will have to be willing to cough up higher fares, 1.2 times the base fare of first class charges for the first six months, and they may also need to alter the way they travel on the city’s iconic local trains.
In the coming days, a regular second class ticket-holding commuter may also want to upgrade themselves to taking an AC local train pass after they see the lesser rush in these trains. A majority of passengers who travel on the Western line are economically strong, and thus bringing a tiny shift to their ‘style of commute’ won’t make much of a difference,” a senior official of the Western Railway said.
Officials said they were waiting for the months of January and February to notice the extend to which existing first class pass-holders will switch to AC trains.
The Western Railway is set to dedicate at least a month in making passengers aware of the rules for travelling in this local. Making regular commuters aware of the need for a bonafide ticket to travel in this local, and inculcating habits of waiting for the doors to open and close at stations and not leaning inside from platforms are all tasks which the railways will put emphasis on.
“Technicians from the manufacturing company of the local, Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL), railway engineers, ticket checkers and Railway Protection Force (RPF) officials will all be on guard during it’s running in the initial month. Till commuters get accustomed to the difference of travelling in these trains, such assistance will be provided by the Western Railway,” Ravinder Bhakar, Western Railway’s chief public relations officer, said. The initial week, however, witnessed a declining trend in the number of tickets and season passes being sold. The local is yet to witness its loyal ridership, which according to the railways, will come after it’s “honeymoon period is over”.
“Six trips of the first AC local were well received. The commuters, who travelled in the train, were excited as they wanted to experience something new. In the coming days, commuters who stick to traveling in the AC local will be the actual regular users of the train,” a senior railway official said.
After its six trips between Borivali and Churchgate stations in the initial week, the local will ply twelve times every day, except on weekends, in the coming days. At least four trips of the AC local have been scheduled in peak hours, two each in the morning and evening peak hours.
“It is going to replace two major local train services from Borivali and Virar respectively to Churchgate in the morning. We received complaints against the 12.24 pm local being replaced by AC, as regular first and second class pass-holders cannot travel on this train. However, one must realise that without adequate improvement in infrastructure and addition of track lines, the AC local will continue to replace existing train services,” a railway official said.
The fare of the AC train, which is 1.2 times the fare of first class single journey ticket for the initial six months, will be increased to 1.3 times the fare of first class ticket after that period. Commuters have already complained about the higher fares. “What am I getting by paying so much? Neither are the seats cushioned nor are the services regularly available. As a first class pass-holding commuter, I must be able to travel in AC. This would then encourage me to wait for an AC local train as well,” Hiten Jethwa, a regular Western Railway commuter who travels between Churchgate and Andheri stations, said.
While a single first class ticket from Churchgate to Borivali is Rs 140, it will be Rs 165 for the AC local. While a monthly first class season ticket costs Rs 755, it will cost Rs 1,640 on the AC train. Uma Nabar, a commuter who has been using local trains for 50 years, said the introduction of an AC local was the biggest change in the history of suburban locals. Nabar works at Mantralaya in south Mumbai and travels from Borivali station.
“I have taken one ride in the train and I enjoyed it. But, the fares are too much. On special occasions, when you want to travel in less crowded trains as you are accompanying senior citizens or going to hospital during peak hours, the AC local could be a boon,” Nabar said. “Replacing specific number of regular train services with the AC local will lead to overcrowding on other trains, and that in turn may lead to more people dying as they fall off from crowded coaches. The railways must dedicate a complete local for second class commuters to ensure their commute is not affected. Also, until end-to-end connectivity from a railway station to your work area is not in place, car users would continue to prefer a metro over a local train,” Ketan Goradia, a railway activist, said.
“By allowing the elite to travel in the AC local train, railways is trying to under-utilise its expected carrying capacity of passengers per hour, which is close to 3,60,000. What sort of democracy are we living in if the government hardly worries about the people who voted for them? If shutting the doors remains the objective of AC locals, let it be of use to the maximum number of passengers who use regular local trains,” said Sudhir Badami, a transport expert.