Mumbai’s Local Trains Resume for Essential Employees. Will They Ever Go Back to Peak-Hour Normalcy?


Mumbai’s Local Trains Resume for Essential Employees. Will They Ever Go Back to Peak-Hour Normalcy?

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

Nearly three months since it hosted its last passenger, Mumbai’s iconic local trains resumed some operations from today.

Known colloquially as Mumbai’s lifeline for being the only source of transportation for millions of residents every day, the trains had come to a halt for the first time in their 167-year history, after the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide lockdown was declared in March.

From this week onward, trains on both the Central and Western lines will resume operations, but will only run for the 1.25 lakh who have been marked out as essential employees for now. The services won’t resume for general public just yet.

Reports said several officials were put in charge of ensuring that only those who are employed in essential services, according to a list compiled by the BMC and the state government will be allowed to travel. Those who qualify will have to carry valid ID cards.

To maintain social distancing norms, only 700 people will be allowed on trains that are otherwise reserved for 1,200 passengers, and will run every 15 minutes from 5.30 am to 11.30 pm.

While most of these measures seem to be temporary, experts have indicated that in a post-Covid-19 world, a number of these measures could end up becoming permanent.

One expert was quoted in Mid Day as saying that the government would have to try and ensure that the number of people using the train never goes back to its original figure — which is estimated to be around 75 lakh per day.

“This can no longer happen,” he says, pointing in favour of an odd-even scheme, where only 50 per cent of the population works on one day, as well as ancillary measures like providing infrastructure to allow the public to cycle and walk across short distances.

The Chairman of Mumbai’s Environment Social Network was quoted as saying that “densification”, or the equal distribution of people across different areas in order to reduce commuting time, was the need of the hour. This, the official said, will reduce the pressure on the local trains as well.

But even as these discussions take place, according to a recent survey, upto 60% of Mumbai residents said they would avoid the locals for a few months, even if the state was to resume operations for the general public right now.

With over 50,000 cases recorded in the city so far, it’s now clear that even as Mumbai’s iconic lifeline gets back on track, things may never go back to the way they used to be.