Saturday, August 6, 2005

Transport Travails: Need an Infrastructure Development Plan for the Towns on Mumbai's Suburban Railway Network

The rail services on the Central Railway have been a mess since the cloudburst that hit Maharashtra on July 26. Traveling by the local trains has been an ordeal. The railway tracks and services are improving fast but. . . but that's still not enough. People are packing themselves in the trains because even at its most terrible, the suburban railway network is still the best alternative available for most commuters. This is especially true for the people traveling from beyond Thane. The roads were no good earlier. After the deluge they are terrible.

I had said in an earlier post that our organization had promised to look into alternatives for us who travel from beyond Thane. The office arranged a mini-bus to ply from Andheri to Badlapur since yesterday evening. The planned route was as follows: Office--Saki Naka--Powai--Airoli creek Bridge -- Mhape Circle -- Shilphata -- Dombivli -- Kalyan -- Ulhasnagar -- Ambernath -- Badlapur. Most of us heaved a sigh of relief once the bus was announced. The bus would leave our office in the evening at 6.45 PM and reach Badlapur around 9.15-30. It would start from Badlapur in the morning at 7.30 and reach office around 9.30-45.

I have just recovered from a nasty bout of fever and yesterday I left early as I had to visit a doctor. I fought my way into a train and then struggled to breath inside the packed compartment, but I was at home in Ambernath by 8.30 PM.

Around 11.00, I decided to call my colleague from Badlapur to confirm the bus route and timings for the next day. The bus still stranded in New Bombay and was trying to get to Shilphata via Taloja. After a few minutes of conversation, I got the lowdown on the situation.

The bus contractor for our office hadn't been able to procure a mini-bus to go to Badlapur. It was decided that the Thane bus would be extended beyond. Nobody grumbled. An half an hour delay due to the detour through Thane was acceptable. It was decided that the bus will go to Thane first and then double-back to the Airoli creek bridge and then follow the planned route on to Mhape Circle and beyond. The bus had left our office as planned with a cheerful lot relieved at the prospect of avoiding traveling by the trains. It crossed Saki Naka and then on to Powai without getting too bogged down in the evening traffic. It then went on to Thane dropped the people, doubled back, crossed the Airoli creek Bridge and reached Mhape Circle. And the troubles started.

The stretch of the road from Mhape Circle to Shilphata is always in a pitiable condition, the deluge had worsened it. To compound matters a major pipeline that runs along the road had burst and swept away a part of the road. The road had been closed to traffic from Mhape Circle onwards. Nowhere earlier were there any signboards of this blockage. That left the bus with only two alternatives. Go on to Taloja via Belapur and then take the freight container road towards Shilphata. Or turn back and try to reach Shilphata via Mumbra. Now it is common knowledge that both these roads are so much pitted with potholes, loose stones and debris that they could easily pass of as the Mars landscape. Since they had come so far into New Bombay, it was decided to take the Taloja route.

With so many heavy trailers using it every day, the condition of the road is nothing to write home about. The cloudburst had virtually left very little road. It was al pothole. And every vehicle in Mumbai and New Bombay seemed to have taken the same road. And there were no street lights. The traffic barely crawled. At 11.00 PM the bus finally reached Shilphata. It was nearly 12.30 AM when the bus reached Badlapur. About 3 hours behind the estimated schedule. It had taken nearly five and a half hours to travel from Andheri to Badlapur.

Today morning the bus started from Badlapur as planned at 7.30 AM. And it followed the schedule right up to Shilphata. Learning from yesterday's experience we took the Mumbra road to Thane. After all it couldn't be as bad as the Taloja route. It wasn't. But it was very bad. We took a hour and a half to reach Thane. a distance of about a little over 10 kilometers -- this with very light traffic on the road. From then on it was another hour and 15 minutes to negotiate Mumbai's traffic and reach Andheri. Today's bus journey from Badlapur to Andheri took nearly 4 hours.

The only alternative for this route is the Bhiwandi Bypass. It has been so weakened by the deluge that no heavy vehicles are allowed on it. That effectively meant that if we couldn't conjure a mini-bus by evening, we would have to use the route we used in the morning to get back home. An nobody wanted to spend 5 hours in the bus again.

We appraised the management about the situation. They tried their best but we couldn't get a mini bus. We are back to square one -- dependent on the suburban railway system that's at the moment badly crippled. But it at least takes much less time.

I have said it in an earlier post, but I will say it again:
While developing (and implementing) a plan for Mumbai's infrastructure, it is very crucial to spare a thought for the infrastructure of the areas and towns that adjoin it --especially those linked to it by the suburban railway network (Thane-Dombivili-Kalyan-Kasara-Karjat-Khopoli). They provide a substantial workforce to the offices in Mumbai and it's bad for the people and the business if they can't get to their offices for over a week or are worried about their safety while traveling. These areas too need good roads and more of them. And they need an alternative public transport system that can be depended upon.

These areas receive very little attention as Mumbai overshadows them and they are not easily accessible -- especially during a crisis. The aftermath of the cloudburst in these areas was as bad (many would claim it to be far worse) as it was in Mumbai. The area hardly received any media coverage. And aid is still trickling into these regions. One of the reasons for that has been the poor transport system. Without the railways and with extremely bad roads these areas have been virtually totally cut-off from the other areas.

Mumbai is much dependent on these areas for workforce, raw materials, produce and these areas are heavily dependent on Mumbai for their livelihood. The transport links between them need to be strengthened and multiplied.

2 comments:

Michael Higgins said...

Hi Mandar
Sorry to hear that you were ill, but hopefully you are better now. Those photos of the floods really show what devestation the recent Mumbai deluge brought.

I wanted to comment about your post about how public transportation needs to consider the needs of the outer suburbs. I think it is necessary for public transportation to focus on becoming profitable so that there is the necessary incentive to modernize and expand. A profitable public transportation system will naturally want to add lines because it will boost demand in the inner city where it is already profitable. I wrote about that here.

shivaji said...

Mandar....

Just been thru this post about the minibus service. I was wondering if you share with me the contact details for the service provider. We are trying to do something similar to the one you have already implemented.