Train Strain

by

My colleague told me to get ready for some rugby.  He wasn’t kidding.  We were returning to our office from a promotional event and the commuter train was the fastest way back.  It was early afternoon and rush hour was still a few hours away, so we decided to go in the second class car of the commuter train—tickets in the first class section are ten times more expensive and, at that hour, the train should not have been too crowded.  When the train pulled up with passengers almost bursting out the wide openings in the sides of the cars (there are no doors), people on the platform started running, pushing, and shouting to get on.  I was practically carried in by the force of the crowd.  So much for the train not being too crowded.  And that was the easy part of the trip.

After standing in a packed compartment as we headed south through Mumbai, we started positioning ourselves to exit about two stops before our destination.  At the stop before, there was a big surge of people onto the train and I was almost lifted off my feet.  I was pressed in from all sides, and I couldn’t move an inch.  There was no need to hold onto anything—there was no way I could fall over.  As the train pulled up to our stop, the passengers around me started shouting as they surged out of the train.  Actually, it was more like a stampede as people pushed, hit, and shoved.  After a couple of elbow shots to my head, I was propelled out the open door and found breathing room on the platform.  No broken bones, my wallet was still in my pocket, and my colleague was safe.  He said we were lucky to have made it onto the train. At rush hour, he has to wait for three or four trains to pass before he can force his way onto one.  This is the way most people travel to work here every day of the week.  As my colleague said, it’s inhuman. 

And unsafe.  Almost 4,000 people die each year on Mumbai’s commuter trains.  That’s over ten people a day.  The death of one passenger on a subway makes headlines elsewhere.  Here, it’s just another number in a criminally high statistic of reported deaths (I have yet to see statistics on those who are critically injured on the trains).  An ambulance service can save some of those lives—but it’s up to the railway authority to do much more to prevent them.  As the world’s cheapest car was rolled out in India this week, it’s hard not to wonder what the money and ingenuity that went into developing the car could have accomplished had they been spent on improving public transportation here.  Maybe save 4,000 lives a year?

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