WHEN THE Kolkata Metro started in 1985, it was India’s first and instantly dubbed the city’s pride. But a quarter of a century later it is floundering because of soaring passenger traffic, ageing rolling stock and the decision to have air-conditioning in all coaches. In the past one month alone, a series of technical snags were reported and two coaches of a train derailed during rush hour last week. Officials who did not wish to be identified said they were having trouble ever since the network was extended to the city’s southern fringes, causing the daily commuter traffic to instantly shoot up from 400,000 to 600,000. Indeed such is the crisis that it has become almost routine for cops to be called in to ease the frequent flare-ups between Metro officials and commuters stuck inside the dilapidated coaches.
“The quality of services has not deteriorated. It is just that people’s expectations have gone up,” argues Amar Nath, general manager of Metro Railway, which still provides the city’s fastest north-south transit. And it costs just Rs. 4 for 6 km, Rs. 6 for up to 8 km, and Rs. 12 for up to 24 km. Even the cheapest bus ride in the city costs more, he says.
After all the coaches were air-conditioned, the power demand rose by almost 25 percent, according to officials of the power utility, CESC Ltd. They say that the Metro, which uses 40 MW daily, is the city’s biggest power consumer. “The current supply is enough to run non-AC coaches and 15 partly AC stations; but AC coaches will need more power. The electrical system upgrade is yet to become foolproof and is causing snags,” said a CESC official.
Also, nearly half of the coaches are over 25 years old and spare parts are almost always in short supply. PK Chatterjee, a former top operations manager at the Metro, feels the automatic signalling system that was proposed nearly a decade ago should be implemented without any further delay, so that trains are able to run faster and the frequency increases from the current 215 every weekday. And that’ll need funds — and the will.
The Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure has indeed sanctioned nearly Rs. 12,000 crore for Kolkata’s urban connectivity projects — 65 percent of which has been earmarked for the Metro’s expansion and upgrade. But the money is still to come, and till the project is completed, be sure to expect more such dark news from the City of Joy.