19 April 2007
...and you thought the C-Train was bad
As Mumbai grows, commuter trains turn deadly
India's economic growth in the past several years has brought new wealth and a higher standard of living to many in Mumbai, a metropolis of 18 million. But it also has created suburban sprawl that is adding more people to a rail network that has seen few new trains or tracks added in the past 30 years. Indian officials have a new term to describe the 2.5 times capacity crowds that now ride at peak hours: Super-Dense Crush Load. That is, 550 people crammed into a car built for 200. The result is what may be the world's most dangerous commute. According to Mumbai police: 3,404 people, or about 13 each weekday, were killed in 2006 scrambling across the tracks, tumbling off packed trains, slipping off platforms, or sticking their heads out open doors and windows for air. The toll has been increasing as daily ridership has increased to more than six million people a day. Last year's tally was up 10% from the year before. Accidents are so common that stations stock sheets to cover corpses.
The commute in many Indian cities has been getting worse as throngs flock from the countryside to urban centers in search of work, and housing developments create a new suburbia. In Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, the railway system has long been a problem. But with ticket prices set artificially low by the federal government it is a money-losing business. The federal and state governments have squabbled in the past over who is responsible for improvements. Now, a US$2 billion upgrade is under way, partly financed by a loan from the World Bank. But that will take at least another five years to finish. Meanwhile, the network's tracks carry 20,000 passengers a day for each kilometer, or 0.62 mile, of rail, eclipsing even Tokyo -- famous for its gloved pushers who cram passengers into cars -- where the system carries 15,000 per kilometer. In New York, the Long Island Rail Road's comparable number is 420, according to the Mumbai Railway Vikas Corp. Even after the current expansion plans add 113 miles, or 22%, to the existing railways and 147, or 74%, more trains, Mumbai's commuter trains will still have to carry 1.5 times their capacity during peak hours.
(Wall Street Journal 070419)
Jebus. What a wreck. Now THAT puts things into perspective.