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Urban rail transport: Innovations and mindsets are at loggerheads here

Urban rail transport: Innovations and mindsets are at loggerheads here

A simple, innovative solution can help Mumbai's choked suburban rail system to increase frequency and reduce commute time. But more than four years after an Ahmedabad-based company submitted the solution to the authorities, the idea remains in cold storage.

With A logical redesign of the trains' running pattern can transform Mumbai's suburban rail commute, reducing commuter load and journey time between stations, says an innovator. The founder of Quicom®, Taruben Kothari, cannot understand why the Mumbai Railway Vikas Corporation Limited (MRVC) has not implemented the solution in spite of a much-excited trial in 2006 on the Western and Central lines of the suburban network. Could it be that although many of the government sectors have started matching the pace of aggressive private participation and accepting the private sector as partners rather than eyeing them with suspicion, the behemoth railway sector is lagging?

MRVC claims to aim at developing “world-class infrastructure for an efficient, safe and sustainable Railway system in Mumbai suburban section to provide comfortable and friendly train services to the commuters”. At present, the only solution—partially implemented—is addition to rake capacity, from nine to 12, and then to 15, as planned. This plan is limited in scope, and needs to be supplemented by a more convincing solution. It also requires additional land along existing platforms. Some basic solutions seem to be at hand, and with relatively low additional investment in physical infrastructure, a significant capacity addition is possible, saving as much as 50 per cent of commute time, and also saving power, operational costs, maintenance and repairs.

In spite of a high-level order by SG Gill, Principal Secretary (Transport and State Excise) to the then Chief Operation Manager of Western Railway PB Murty, the plan was shelved. Kothari says that the company was asked questions such as why the idea was being permeated by a private company to the Railways, tantamount to doubt and lurking suspicion.

This solution, called Quicom, was tried by MRVC in 2006. It was found feasible and effective, and a public survey by leading newspapers in November 2006 found that a whopping 85 per cent of the respondents found the proposed system positively impactful to the commute experience.

A nine-coach carries 5,000 passengers instead of its capacity of 1,700.

Odd-and-even system: Under this proposed system, trains skip alternate stations, instead of the current slow / fast (stopping at all stations / express) system. Chart 1 explains how it utilises the existing tracks for this purpose.

Leap trains: Under this system, trains skip two stations at a time. There are four variants of this, depending on which stations are skipped (first-second, ie, L1, second-third, ie, L2, third-fourth, ie, L3, or fourth-fifth, ie L4, from the originating station—see Chart 2).

When Kothari's company approached London Underground, a panel from that system recommended colour coding for her system for easy identification—a system followed by most major Metro systems around the world. In the Odd-and-Even system, stations can be colour-coded as red and green. Similarly, the Leap trains are colour-coded for convenience. These colours are used uniformly in maps, charts and other displays.

To complement Quicom more effectively and make railways a viable proposition, the company conceived, designed and developed a TOD Project called Quicom+ that entails redevelopment and beautification of Mumbai's 114 local railway stations under PPP mode. Kothari claims that theirs is the first company to provide a plan with ROI to MRVC, which has forwarded the proposal in March this year to the Urban Development Ministry of Maharashtra, for further action.

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