Mumbai: The exceptionally low temperatures in northern India have led to the mercury closing in on single digits in the city in recent days. But the scorching, sweltering summers aren't far away and no one appreciates the malady more than a suburban rail commuter. Which is why an air-conditioned local train is the dream of most of the 69 lakh daily passengers on Western and Central Railways in Mumbai. And it seems they might soon get their wish.
The proposed Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST)-Panvel fast corridor - connecting the city to Navi Mumbai - is likely to have the distinction of becoming the first route to run fully air-conditioned trains. These services could be extended till the planned airport at Panvel, which will be ready in about another five years.
Only last week, railway officials from Mumbai held discussions with the railway board in Delhi, asking them to give shape to their proposal. There are two projected suburban rail corridors -- CST-Panvel fast line and Virar-Vasai-Diva-Panvel, which railway officials feel are ideal for having AC services. The cost of the two new lines is pegged at around Rs 20,000 crore.
"The fast corridor on harbour line would have the required ridership for us to propose AC train services," said Rakesh Saxena, Managing Director, Mumbai Rail Vikas Corporation (MRVC). The number of commuters per day on the harbour line is expected to reach 15 lakh from the present 10 lakh in another three years. Of these, authorities expect around 3 lakh travellers to use the fast corridor.
Railway authorities are also looking at reducing the travel time on this 60-km route from 75 minutes to around 40 minutes with the help of the fast line, which would not have more than seven halts.
Train of thought
Railway officials say that they haven't yet decided on the number of bogies and the project could start with six-coach AC trains. "These trains might run once every 15 minutes. We could increase the frequency depending on demand," said an official.
The authorities also discussed the financial model for implementing this prodigious project and the issue of involving private companies was also mooted. As per the deliberations, the project would be a public private partnership (PPP), although the financing pattern hasn't been decided yet. The venture would involve Indian Railways, City and Industrial Development Corporation (Cidco) and the private company.
In a bid to make the concern financially viable, the railways are looking at creating a separate entity for handing the operations. "We are exploring the possibility of setting up fares for AC train services in accordance with metro and monorail. Those who can afford or are willing to pay will definitely travel," added the railway official.
Apart from this, authorities are also mulling commercial development of station buildings by having shopping malls and business outlets. Global tenders are likely to be called soon for private companies to participate in construction of these corridors, starting with the CST-Panvel fast line. Railways would also discuss the scope for land acquisition for this project with the state government.