When the Delhi Metro was coming up, I remember two men talking on a city bus near Tis Hazari courts about its merits and demerits. Used to the ways the construction agencies worked those days, one of them remarked, “At least our children would be able to enjoy the metro.”
It was not easy for them to believe that an operation as mammoth as the Delhi Metro could be completed on time. It took the city by surprise when the world-class transport system was ready to roll out ahead of schedule.
It was the efficiency of the Delhi Metro Corporation under the charge of “Metro Man” E. Sreedharan and his handpicked team of just about 70 persons who made this dream a reality and gave the Capital a contemporary icon — the Delhi Metro.
On the first day of operations, nearly a million curious passengers flocked to the system. The novelty of the new stations with automatic fare collection system, elevators and escalators, neat and wide platforms and glistening new air-conditioned trains was all too attractive.
And as people came by the hordes, the system collapsed. Mishandling of the automatic doors led to the trains going off schedule, and thousands of tokens went missing as people either forgot, or failed, to deposit them at the end of their journey.
Gradually the novelty wore off and the metro became part and parcel of life in the city. Its punctuality and professional approach in transporting people set new benchmarks. Initially restricted to North-East Delhi and North Delhi, the metro slowly covered the city and even beyond.
Almost a decade later, the Delhi Metro has been unable to cope with the pressure that the high footfalls generate despite the fact that only about 20 lakh people use it daily as against the 23.1 lakh that were expected by the end of Phase I in 2005.
Though the system and platforms were always designed for eight coaches, the Delhi Metro is yet to get its first eight-coach train. “We are likely to introduce our first eight-coach train in about a week’s time,” said a DMRC spokesperson.
Over 100 six-coach trains have been introduced to reduce congestion, which had worsened as the trains were earlier limited to a mere four coaches. But the increasing number of commuters has rendered even that inadequate.
DMRC has been unable to explain the delay in the introduction of eight-coach trains. An initial change of plan to procure the coaches from the Government-run Bharat Earth Movers Limited to scouting for the new manufacturers, like Bombardier, could have been a reason for delay, but given the timeline, it seems an inordinate one.
To reduce congestion, DMRC insists it is also taking a number of other steps. For example, to ease the rush on the Jahangirpuri-HUDA City Centre line, a parallel underground line is being constructed from Central Secretariat to Kashmere Gate. This will also provide an interchange at Mandi House for the Dwarka-Noida line, thereby reducing the load on the busy Rajiv Chowk Station (Connaught Place).
“Similarly, more interchange stations have been planned under Phase 3 of the project at Lajpat Nagar, Botanical Garden (Noida), INA and Punjabi Bagh,” the DMRC spokesperson said.
The Delhi Metro has also been unable to deal with congestion on the platforms, and to allow the orderly boarding and alighting from trains. It claims it is working on that front as well by installing railings on the platforms at congested stations such as Rajiv Chowk, Laxmi Nagar and Preet Vihar. Such railings are being installed in a score of other stations as well.
Apart from this, “platform gates” or screen doors are being introduced to prevent people from falling on to the tracks and committing suicides. “These gates are an integral part of the work along the Mukundpur-Shiv Vihar line and Janakpuri West-Botanical Garden line of Phase 3. Both these corridors are on Ring Road and expected to have a great rush,” the DMRC spokesperson said.