At 11 pm every night, once the last passenger of the Mumbai Metro alights, the train switches to an alternate track. With the lights and air-conditioning switched off and only the headlights to guide the pilot, it starts moving to the car shed at Four Bungalows. On its way, a jet of water greets the train.
Sets of rubber brushes mounted on the track come alive as it snakes along, caking each compartment with soft water and mild detergent. The train passes through another three sets of brushes that spray its stainless steel body with purified (reverse osmosis) water to leave it gleaming. In just under two minutes, the open air car wash is over and the train moves into the car shed.
At eight hectares, the Versova shed is the smallest such facility for any Metro rail system in the world. In the very congested Mumbai, it has been constructed on the peripheries of two residential towers on a plot reclaimed from mangroves.
Space constraints meant that the washing facility had to be built on an S-shaped track between the Metro station and the shed. Mumbai Metro uses between 200 and 250 litres of water to wash each train, but claims to recycle all but the negligible amount lost to spillage and wind. In the summer, all 15 trains (of a fleet of 16 — one is always held in reserve) are washed every two days. The interiors, however, are cleaned to spotlessness daily.
The shed is divided into three parking bays, including nine, five and three tracks respectively. Supervised by three senior officers, a crew of thirty men simultaneously climbs aboard each train and begins scrubbing the doors, windows, handholds, seats and finally the 90-metre long floor — each train is cleaned from the inside in approximately 30 minutes.
With dawn now just a few hours away, maintenance engineers run a series of checks. While the trains, manufactured by CSR Nanjing in China, are more than capable of running automatic checks, manual inspection is a must.
According to those who work there, while engineers scrutinise every inch of the train, its central system “talks” to other sub-systems to ensure each component is functioning well.
A typical overall scrutiny, which the Mumbai Metro describes as a ‘health check”, lasts between one and one-and-a-half hours. Items on a lengthy check-list must be ticked off during that time before the train is declared “fit” to ferry
Two years after operations began a 11-kilometre track, nights now pass fairly smoothly inside the car shed and engineers hardly receive phone calls of things needing to be fixed. Those who work at the car shed at night speak of teething problems that cropped up each night in the summer of 2014. Now though, the sailing is smooth.
Up on the main tracks, the overhead electric lines are de-energised the moment the last train leaves it. Through the night, teams handling the power supply, signalling and upkeep of tracks comb sections of two kilometres each for any abnormality.
By 4 am, two pilots arrive at the car shed and have 30 minutes to inspect their train before rolling them out for a test run. By the time the test run between Versova and Ghatkopar is completed, several other pilots have arrived and the metro is ready at 5.30 am for another new day.
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