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Commuter speak: The nightmare called Mumbai locals

Last updated on: April 19, 2012 21:24 IST

Commuter speak: The nightmare called Mumbai locals

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Abhishek Mande in Mumbai

Commuters who braved the city on Wednesday taking on a broken down railway system share their experiences

You can bet that an average Mumbaikar's nightmare doesn't involve demons, terrorists or floods. It's something the city has learnt to live with and after a few hours of lull, it is back on its feet, going to movies, catching up with friends and heading to work.

An unexpected breakdown of the railway line however does figure pretty high in the list of things that scares the living daylights out of the city's population. So you can imagine what most of us may have felt when we woke up on Wednesday morning to realise that our lifeline had been cut of.

Hundreds of thousands of commuters in Mumbai as trains along the suburban Central and Harbour lines came to a virtual standstill after the signalling system collapsed.

Thanks to a massive fire that broke on Tuesday night at a signalling cabin in Kurla an eastern suburb and an important railway junction along the Central Railway line, the city that is always on the move came to an abrupt halt.

S Malegaonkar, the Central Railway Spokesperson, claimed that about 70 per cent of the services were affected and to add to the dismay, announced that it would be another four days before the services could be restored fully.

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Image: Commuters at Kurla
Photographs: Sahil Salvi

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'We were stranded'

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Much as we love to hate it, fact is that the Mumbai locals are something we cannot live without. They are part of our cultural unconscious and alternative modes of transport are almost non existent.

So when Sunil Sonawane heard that there was some trouble with the trains, he decided to leave a little earlier than usual. Sonawane lives in Dombivli a far flung suburb about 50 km from Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. On a regular day, Sonawane leaves at 7.15 am to reach work at about 9 am. On Wednesday, he left at 6am, almost sure that he'd beat the peak hour crowd and get to work on time.

He didn't.

This is how he travelled: From Dombivli, Sonawane hired rickshaw to Bhiwandi, a town that lies to the north east of Mumbai and then yet another one to Thane, a slightly larger town and a prominent railway station along the Central Railway line.

By this time he was poorer by a good Rs 300 and hadn't even crossed one-fourth of the distance he was supposed to. It was mid morning by the time he reached Thane. After a desperate hunt for a taxi, Sonawane managed to get one and reached his office in central Mumbai by 2 pm -- a full eight hours after he left.

"On my way back I thought I'd be smart and take an outstation train which would go faster than the locals. Anyway we were allowed to travel in one that day because of all the mess. But as the train neared Kurla, it showed no signs of moving at all. We were stranded. For two hours! Finally, I got off and walked on the tracks to reach Kurla station from where I took a train and reached home around 10.45, about five hours after I'd left work," he says.

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Image: The signalling cabin in Kurla after the fire
Photographs: Sahil Salvi

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'No one understood the gravity of the situation'

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Sachin Vaidya who also lives in Dombivli and works as a visualiser in the creative team wasn't as adventurous. Unlike Sonawane, Vaidya also had no clue what he was about to get into when he left his home as usual at 7 am. He figured there must've been something wrong because the crowd was slightly more than usual.

"It wasn't until I got a call from someone at home that I understood the gravity of the situation," he says.

By then he was already in the overcrowded train; so there was no getting out. Finally the train chugged into Thane. When he looked at his watch Vaidya realised the journey that usually doesn't take more than 10-15 minutes on a good day had taken an hour!

He got off the train and decided that discretion was a better part of valour and turned to go home. It would be however another hour and a half before he would get there!

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Image: Commuters jostle at the Kurla bus stand
Photographs: Sahil Salvi

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'We're used to worse'

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One of quirks of the suburban Mumbai train services is that its officials don't think it important to announce the extent of the problem to its commuters. So if you were one of the lakhs of commuters waiting on the platform, chances are the only thing you'd know was that there was some technical snag somewhere which was causing the '30-minute delay'.

Now these kinds of announcements rarely ever put off regular commuters. We're used to worse.

So when Vimal Sapra heard the announcement, he promptly ignored it and got into the train anyway. Sapra who lives in Kalyan, 54 km away from Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus has been used to these announcements. So he got into one at about 7.40 am and the horror began.

His train chugged into Thane station almost an hour later, twice the amount of time he would have otherwise taken.

Yet he held on. By the time he reached Kanjurmarg (about 25km away from Mumbai CST) it was 11.30 am, almost four hours after he left his home and boarded the train.

"Finally I got off at Kanjurmarg and decided to take an auto rickshaw for the rest of the distance," he says. However it would be another 40 minutes before he got one and another two-and-a-half hours before he reached work that was less than 20 km from the place he decided to leave the train.

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Image: Commuters line up at Kurla bus stand
Photographs: Sahil Salvi

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'It wasn't worth the risk'

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Divya Nair, a colleague who also lives in Kalyan writes about her experience:

When I receive a call from my dad at 6 am, I know everything isn't fine. On Tuesday morning, the call was to warn me that the trains in the Central line were running exceptionally late.

Like every day, he had left home at 4.20 am to take the 4.38 am train from Kalyan to CST. However, he had barely managed to reach Thane at 6 am.

I immediately switched on the television and realised that the signal panel between Kurla and Vidyavihar stations on the Central Line had caught fire at midnight which had delayed the trains in Central and Harbour line by over an hour and half.

I left home at 7.15 am (30 minutes earlier than usual) hoping to get an early train to reach office on time.

On my way to the station, I called up my friends who start their journey at 6.30 am to find out if there were any developments. While most of them had decided to stay back, owing to crowded trains and lack of information by railway announcers, some others who had risked the commute, found themselves stuffed in a crowded compartment not knowing whether they should get off at the next station and return home or wait patiently for the train to take them to their destination.

Most of them complained that they had no information why the trains were late.

A friend who took a train in the morning and was stuck for 25 minutes between Kalyan and Dombivli planned to return to Kalyan from Dombivli (barely 10 km) by road said that she had to shell out Rs 100 by rickshaw (double the standard fare). Some others who took the bus said they had a tiring day and reached late by 45minutes to an hour.

At 7.30 am, Kalyan station had a sea of people waiting to pounce on the next train that came their way. There was barely place to stand on the railway platform or the flyover.

My father who started his return journey from Bhandup at 6.30 am reached Kalyan at 8 am (that was probably the first train to leave towards Kalyan). And since people who were waiting at the platform rushed inside the compartment before the train halted, my father had to jump off the other end of the exit door onto the tracks.

The indicator displayed a 6.40 train which reached the station at 8 am! All other trains were probably cancelled or rescheduled. The 6.40 train was impossible to board without getting physically molested and bruised.

After struggling to get inside the train, the train did not move for another 20 minutes and I immediately realised that it wasn't worth the risk. I got off and texted my colleagues that I wouldn't be able to come to work.


Image: Stranded commuters at a suburban station
Photographs: Sahil Salvi

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