Mumbai Metro: Transforming Transport in a Megacity

Mumbai is gearing up for 12 new Metro lines with improved comfort and safety. Photo by Fly2Blue.
Mumbai is gearing up for 12 new Metro lines with improved comfort and safety. Photo by Fly2Blue.

By Sharad Saxena

Mumbai's new Metro lines offer an opportunity to create a modern public transport system with innovative technological features.

Mumbai, the capital of the Indian state of Maharashtra, lies along a north-south peninsula, a geography that restricts the spread of the city and leaves it with the second-highest population density in the world. This density and geography present enormous challenges to the city’s transport system.

Rail is the most popular form of transport in Mumbai. With a history dating back to 1853, the network stretches to nearly 400 km of track. Despite its massive size, Mumbai’s railway system is highly congested – perhaps the most crowded public transport system in the world.  

The suburban railway lines carry more than 7.5 million passengers a day, often under super dense crush load conditions of 14 to 16 passengers per square meter. Trains exceed their design capacity by three or even four times, with as many as 5,000 passengers crammed into carriages intended to carry 1,750.

Bursting at the seams would be an understatement, as passengers can be seen clinging on to a single pole or even just the edges of the open doorway as they hang from the train, resulting in frequent daily tragedies. None of these issues has an easy solution and the overwhelming level of demand compels the people to endure the risks and pain of daily travel with fortitude.

Expanding the capacity of public transport is crucial to improve living conditions; provide safe and convenient mobility, and enable the city to develop to its potential. Given the geographic and infrastructure constraints as well as high population density, a metro rail system is the only reasonable option.

The good news is that this is exactly what the Government of Maharashtra has planned. The government is developing 12 metro lines totaling 276 km of track. Line 1 is already operational. With 400,000 persons per day riding the line, it is proof that new public transport infrastructure is highly welcome and likely to be heavily patronized.

ADB will be assisting in financing the procurement of rolling stock, signaling, train control, and other systems equipment for two of the new Metro lines. Also, it will help in the creation of a new dedicated Metro organization that will manage the entire Metro rail network in Mumbai.

Mumbai Metro as a whole is a large and ambitious venture that will be truly transformative. Once all the 12 lines are complete, the metro network will provide easy access across the city. The Metro will also relieve the pressure on the existing suburban railway and buses, reducing overcrowding and enhancing safety. It will pave the way for smart urban growth in India’s financial capital. In the process, it will reduce emissions from vehicles, with carbon dioxide emissions expected to fall by about 166,000 tons a year.

For the poor, the two new lines will be a boon. Low ticket prices will bring comfortable public transport within reach of low-income commuters and some of the stations will serve poor areas of the city. Other groups of commuters will enjoy easier transport, including women who will be served by women-only carriages, mobile applications for security, separate ticket counters, and reporting desks to address incidents of harassment.

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Women’s employment will be promoted all along the lines and there will even be a station staffed only by women. Elderly or differently-abled passengers will be served by special station and carriage facilities as well as priority e-ticket counters.

The new Metro lines also offer an opportunity to create a modern public transport system with innovative technological features.

  • Extra safety. The new Metro lines will be elevated or underground, hence will not have residents living alongside to be endangered by passing trains. The elevated tracks also eliminate the risk of flooding, which is a perennial problem on the suburban trains during the dreaded Mumbai monsoon.
  • Driverless trains. There are 4 grades of automation in metro or subway systems and Mumbai’s will be highest at GoA 4. Under this, the trains are capable of being operated automatically at all times, including door closing, obstacle detection, and in emergencies. While initially it is not intended to operate in a “driverless mode,” the Metro will use sophisticated technologies for monitoring and automation that will contribute enormously toward safety.
  • Extra protection. Passengers will no longer be able to cross the lines between platforms or be accidentally pushed onto the lines by the sheer crush of people during peak hours. The new Metro instead will have Singapore-style platform screen doors on the station platforms that open only when the train is already at the platform.
  • Saving energy. The trains will use regenerative braking. In the braking mode, the train’s traction motors will become generators and generate electricity that will be fed back to the power grid, thus reducing the overall energy consumption.
  • Speedier operation. The metro will use modern signaling systems that employ communications-based train control technology. This will allow more trains to be run at shorter intervals with the highest safety.

The experience gained in the city from the Metro will offer many lessons for others that are wrestling with similar issues and seeking to improve their transport systems.

Mumbai is finally developing a public transport system that will offer much more comfort and safety for millions. It’s truly every Mumbaikar’s dream come true.