India Insight

Rail lifeline shows Mumbai commuters no mercy

By Reuters Staff
May 4, 2010

By Arun George

The agitation by motormen on Mumbai’s suburban railway is not the first the city has seen in recent times.

Commuters cross railway tracks in Mumbai May 4, 2010. REUTERS/Arko DattaBut it has been among the worst with chaos in the city as people tried to deal with the sudden absence of the arterial transport system.

Even the trial of Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, the sole gunman arrested in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, was not spared. Staff working in the court could not reach on time.

The suburban railway is Mumbai’s lifeline and ferries more than 6 million commuters during peak hours everyday.

Mumbai’s citizens, feted for their resilience, used any and all means to get to their destinations.

Taxi drivers made merry plying passengers from offices to homes. Their good fortune stretched to Tuesday morning.

Few taxis were available as demand outran supply and harried commuters waited in vain.

A commuter from a northern suburb said he clambered on to a railway engine to make his way home on Monday evening and repeated the stunt to get to office the next day.

Students of the Mumbai University were given permission to take their exams even if they reached the centres late. Many office goers bunked office and stayed home.

Railway stations, normally packed during peak hours, wore an empty look. The few trains that were running were half-full with most people avoiding them for fear of getting stranded.

Ashish, a professional in south Mumbai waited all morning for a train before he rode his bicycle to his office 40 km away. Train services returned to normal only on Tuesday evening.

The railways have defended themselves arguing the strike by the motormen was illegal. However, did they act in time to prevent the strike?

The motormen have argued their pay is insufficient and working hours are too long. They also say a solution has been promised but are still to see its results.

But are they justified in holding Mumbai to ransom?

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