The suburban railways are the lifeline of Mumbai’s transport network. The system is divided into three different sections serving the Mumbai and suburbs. These are Western, Central and Harbor railway lines. Today about 7 million people travel by the suburban trains daily to their work place in the city and back to their homes. The trains are overcrowded during the rush hours with people packed like sardines. A person has to be physically agile and fit for boarding the train in the morning hours. During rush hours, even with the trains running at 2 to 3 minutes frequency, the platforms seem to be a fertile fields in which the crops of passengers grow before eyes in no time. A train pulls into the platform, jostling and commotion begins for boarding the train even before the passengers inside are able to get down. The platform seems deserted for a minute and within another minute again it is a sea of humanity. Wave after wave of passengers come to the platform and trains take them away from the city. But waves do not seem to abate and trains seem to groaning under the weight seem to dead tired. One cannot even imagine of tomorrow as the population is growing day by day. Passengers arrive at the station, get down and hurry down the roads to catch taxis, buses to reach their offices in the morning. In the evening the reverse exodus takes place.
The Great Indian Railway story began 157 years ago on April 16 when the first 14-coach steam engine chugged out from Boree Bunder (Victoria Terminus nee Chhatarpati Shivaji terminus nowadays) towards Tannah (Thane) on the Central railway section. According to records,the first train ever to run on Indian soil carried Lady Falkland,wife of the governor of Bombay,along with 400 special invitees (government officials,important dignitaries,sahibs,brown sahibs and zamindars ) only halting at Byculla,important trading post Sion,and a few kilometers away making another halt to fill in water and filling water in the engines.
The 34-kilometre ride,which chugged off at 3.30 pm amidst 21 gun salutes and a grand applause from thousands gathered around,was traversed in exactly one hour and fifteen minutes. The train arrived to grand festivity and travellers were treated to a sumptuous feast with tables groaning with delicacies of the season.In comparison,a fast train today takes 50 minutes with five halts while a slow train which halts at 18 stations en route takes 59 minutes.
Rewinding for trivia of more than a century and a half ago,three brand new brand new steam engines Sahib,Sindh and Sultan hauled the coaches.Work on the CST-Thane route started in 1851 and took just 25 months.More than 10,000 workers saw that the project was completed at 20% less than the projected cost. Records also say that April 16,1853,was an occasion so momentous that it was declared a public holiday.
Villagers compared the train to God and in reverence put red tilaks on the smoke stacks on the engine,left offerings of food,money on the footplate and flowers on the tracks,say CR records.
Meanwhile,on February 3,1925,the first EMU,that is,suburban service started between VT and Kurla on the harbour line with just four coaches.
The same year,CR ran 150 services a day,which is a fraction of the 1,468 which crisscross the length and breath of the city today.And while they were just 80 million commuters per year or 2,19,178 per day in 1925,around 3.5 million are dependent on the lifeline today.Around 50% of Mumbai depends on the suburban railways every day for their daily commute and the system has been dubbed as the city’s lifeline.