The suburban trains (aka local trains) connect the outlying suburbs to the Mumbai Metropolitan Region. The suburban railway carries over 7.5 million commuters a day and operates 2,342 train services. Those figures certainly make it one of the busiest rail systems in the worlds. Obviously, overcrowding is the biggest problem faced by Mumbai’s suburban railway.
The local trains are operated by Western Railways (WR) and Central Railways (CR). Trains serving the western suburbs of Mumbai are operated by WR; CR operates the Central Line, Harbor Line, Trans-Harbor Line and the Vasai Road-Diva-Panvel line.
Local trains are classified as slow trains and fast trains. A fast train only halts at important stations. A slow train, on the other hand, halts at every station along the route. Boarding a fast train during peak hours isn’t easy. If this is the first you are traveling by Mumbai’s local trains, avoid fast trains. Tourists won’t be doing themselves a favor if they try to board a fast train during peak hours. But of course it depends upon your attitude. Millions board these trains every day. If you want to know what they are experiencing, try boarding a fast local from Dadar or Dombivli during peak hours.
The local lines are the lifeline of Mumbai. When you travel by these trains, you learn a lot of lessons in endurance. Your stamina improves. Your confidence improves. Your need for private space diminishes. You will develop a new found admiration for your own skills. I am not kidding. These are the real benefits.
The Central line connects CST to Kalyan. Trains run beyond Kalyan as well. There are two routes – one from Kalyan to Kasara and the other from Kalyan to Khopoli. After Kalyan all trains are slow. The Harbor Line connects CST to Panvel. The Trans-Harbor Line connects Navi Mumbai to Thane. There are trains reserved for women. Only women can board the Ladies Special trains.
Suburban trains have 9, 12 and 15 coach rakes. You can travel first class or second class. First class compartments are much less crowded than second class compartments because the fare is about 12 times higher than second class fare. Also, the seats in first class compartments are slightly better than those in second class compartments. The biggest benefit of traveling by first class is that you don’t have to jostle with one another for space.
Second class compartments are called general compartments. Most passengers in these compartments are men. Women and children can also board these compartments.
First class general compartments are open to all. However, you will find more men than women in these compartments. The first class compartments are marked with red and yellow slant lines. You should look for these lines before boarding a compartment. Since these compartments are much less crowded, it is normal to feel the temptation to board them. Traveling first class on a second class ticket will result in a fine. The walls of the platform where first class compartments will halt also have the same red and yellow stripes. If you are carrying a first class ticket, wait there. If you are carrying a second class ticket, do not wait there. The trains will halt for only a few seconds at each station. And during those seconds, hundreds of people will get off and get in. So, waiting at the right place is very, very important.
Some compartments are reserved for women. Men cannot board them; however, boys under 13 can travel in these compartments. Identifying a ladies compartment isn’t that hard. There are green and yellow slant stripes on the coach. You will find the same stripes on the platform walls where these compartments will halt. The ladies first class compartments are usually adjacent to the ladies general compartments. These coaches are also marked by the red and yellow slant stripes.
There are also separate compartments for disabled people and senior citizens. Men and women above the age of 60 can board the senior citizens special coach.
You can buy tickets at every station. Expect long queues at the ticket counters. Instead of waiting in line, you can get the tickets from an automatic ticket vending machine. You will find them at most stations. As you can imagine traveling without a valid ticket is an offence. Traveling first class on a second class ticket or no ticket at all will result in a steep penalty. Tickets can be bought for a single journey or a return journey. During weekdays, a return ticket is valid for 24 hours. A return ticket purchased on a Friday is valid till Monday.
Buying tickets isn’t all that hard. Mention the destination and class. You also need to specify whether you need a single (one way) ticket or a return ticket. So, if you are buying a second class return ticket to Dadar from Dombivli, just say Dadar, second class, return.
Tourists should consider getting themselves a tourist ticket. It is valid for 1, 3 or 5 days. A tourist ticket can be bought up to 3 days in advance.
Friends or relatives who accompany a traveler to the railway station will need platform tickets to access the platform. A platform ticket typically costs ₹5. It can be bought from the station.
Regular commuters should buy season tickets. Their validity ranges from 1-month to 12-months. A season ticket saves both time and money. It is much cheaper than regular tickets. The UTSOnMobile app allows travelers to buy tickets using their mobile phone.
The local trains are run by electric multiple units (EMUs). The 9 coach trains are now being phased out. The new rakes are capable of traveling 100 km/hour. However, the actual average speed is much lower. Slow trains typically cover 35 km/hour. Fast trains cover 45-50 km/hour.
A 12-car train has a capacity of about 3,500 passengers. A 9-car train has a capacity of about 2600 passengers. However, during peak hours this train may carry up to 4500 passengers. That means 14-16 people per square meter. Trains run every 4 minutes. New higher speed rakes are going to be introduced in the near future. They are expected to address many of these issues.
Local trains are safe if you observe basic norms of safety – do not cross the tracks and do not board or lean out of a moving train. Trains run every four minutes. So, resist the temptation to board overcrowded trains. Do not sit on train roofs. What!? Do people actually sit there? Yes, they do. Some passengers sit on the roof of trains to save themselves from the crowding inside the compartments. Unfortunately, this is one of the stupidest things to do. Some of these folks actually get electrocuted by the overhead electric lines that power the trains. Some fall and kill themselves.
Fatalities have reduced significantly over the last few years. Use a little common sense and you will be safe. Local trains do not have doors at the moment, but that is not an issue if you manage to push yourself inside. Automatic doors will reportedly be installed on all rakes by 2016.
Tips for tourists
Avoid peak hours 8 – 10.30 am and 6 – 8.30 pm unless of course you are in the desperate need of a free body message. Travelers, especially those coming from the west where private space is cherished, should not try to board the local trains during peak hours. In the morning, trains going towards South (CST or Church Gate) are the most crowded. In the evening trains going towards North (suburbs) are the most crowded.