It was a Sunday morning and probably a very long weekend for those who might have taken Friday off to enjoy the festival of colours, Holi, on Monday in the country. I was commuting in the suburban train on my way to meet a host of transport enthusiasts to experience the Mumbai Monorail. Being fortunate to have got onto a train (route) that would take me directly to the railway station nearest to the Monorail allowed me a carefree over hear of conversation on fictional writing, cooking and 20 something problems being discussed by a couple sitting in front of me.
The organiser of the Mumbai Monorail Meetup, Vivek, recommended that I experience the inconvenient walk from the train to the monorail station. This is how it summed up –
Step 1 – A 15 minute (leisure) walk from Chembur railway station to Chembur Monorail station. For those citizens who have it in them to admire tress on both sides of the sky walk and then yet be in support of the 10 minute walk after getting lucky to have found a guard (who isn’t asleep) to instruct whether to navigate towards the left or right at the end of the skywalk in order to arrive at the monorail must not already form an opinion about the Mumbai Monorail.
Step 2 – Overcome two points of uncertainty with reference to direction toward the Monorail.
Step 3 – You can either queue to collect a blue coloured chip which is for short term use or form a line to purchase a smart card which is valid for six months from the last recharge.
Step 4 – While standing in line, you might want to have a look at the Monorail map which also acts as a commute fare indicator and save time of people in line behind you. As part of the Meetup we had decided to cover the entire stretch of Phase 1 for which one pays Rs. 11.
Having arrived for the Meetup before time I landed waiting for other members to arrive and fourty minutes had already passed. Little did I know that cameras had me under their watch and I had managed to make security guards very uncomfortable. On being approached by guards, I learnt that the blue coloured chip had a validity of only one hour. Having waited 40 minutes and with a 30 minute Monorail ride to follow I would have been awarded a fine. This is when I cleared out of the station to re-purchase my fare, except this time I purchased the smart card.
During the 40 minute wait I spotted the Monorail skirt, which reminded me (in the environment I was standing in) of the 1996 Duke Nukem 3D computer game.
Step 5 – Those who have travelled the Delhi Metro might not need a visual for this step. The commuter has to simply place the chip or smart card over an area which would allow him through a security box of approximately three and a half feet.
Step 6 – Security check. At the malls in Mumbai security guards use the full body scanner to no effect. At the Mumbai Monorail security guards only hold the scanner in their hand but do not use it.
Step 7 – By the time all of us met, of which Vivek had invited his friend, Shashank, who works for Scomi, the Malaysian company that had manufactured the Mumbai Monorail, had already answered over a dozen fundamental questions. The seven of us walked a final flight of stairs that took us to the Monorail level.
Step 8 – There were security guards to monitor commuters so that no one creates havoc or mess just before mounting the Monorail.
The pink coloured Monorail consisted of four coaches, completing the entire car. The route was designed to allow a pair of monorails to operate either way of the route. While in the Monorail, and standing at the head coach of the Monorail, we received a detailed explanation of the functionality of the vehicle. Some interesting points included –
1. The Monorail is controlled by a joystick. If the driver lets go of the joystick the vehicle begins working towards a halt.
2. The entire system is monitored by the control room which is based at the final station of Phase 1. The Mumbai Monorail is designed at Grade 2 advanced level where motion of the vehicle and doors are controlled by the driver of the Monorail. The most advanced level is a Grade 4 system which includes regenerative braking technology and a driverless vehicle.
3. Currently, Mumbai Monorail is yet gathering public response and operates only till 3 p.m daily, during which it has limited its maximum running speed to 65 km/hr while it is designed to travel up to a speed of 80 km/hr, operates at 90% optimum carrying capacity of the Monorail, has a headway (interval time between two Monorails) of 15 minutes, has released only 4 cars to operate on the 9 kilo meter route and employs over 250 individuals.
4. There is a 90 degree turn en route to the Wadala Depot Station (the seventh and final station). Visually this looks very appealing. I wish I had a clicked a photo at that time. Supporting the vehicle is a total of 64 wheels tucked away under the body of the Monorail.
There are a set of 8 wheels (2 foundation, 6 supporting) under each seating area. There are 8 seating areas, 2 in each coach (primarily reserved for the elderly). The 6 supporting wheels run parallel to the track as if cleaning the track on the sides while rotating during motion.
Maintenance shed in blue
5. The beam (tracks) on which the Monorail operates have adjustable fork like structures which enables the Monorail to shift tracks. It is interesting to observe the movement of the fork like structure.
When we boarded the Monorail at Chembur station we boarded from the right side of the Monorail. After leaving Chembur station the fork like structure shifted the Monorail to the left side beam, hence on reaching Wadala Depot Station we got out from the left side exit doors.
For commuters waiting to board the Monrail at Wadala Depot station, the Monorail had to surpass the station by a half kilo meter, fork to the right, come back to the station and then collect commuters.
By the time we had completed our one way trip, Sachin, the founder of Mumbai based m-indicator smart phone application had already got a solid idea towards including the Monorail route to the application, which already serves commuters using suburban train and public bus routes. The group began realising the big picture –
1. Currently majority of Monorail users are leisure commuters who only wish to experience a Monorail ride. This has naturally amounted to very weak financial returns to the Mumbai Monorail management.
2. On either side of the Monorail commute through the seven stations, one could justifiably see greenery. There was no financial, residential or industrial complex visible. This basically translates to loss for the MMRDA in the short and medium term. It is quite possible that political parties and builders (Ajmera builders who already have a presence near IMAX Dome theatre) might have purchased land around the Monorail for future gains. Then again which transport project is not about land?
If Phase 1 has employed Rs. 1100 crore, the headway must be reduced to the targeted 2 minutes and optimum number of cars must be introduced as per plan in order to recover the invested amount. Shashank informed me that Mumbai Monorail documents all commuter movement and has numbers pertaining to economic, financial and technical progress. This must be shared with the general public, hence contributing towards better awareness and acceptance of such a public transport initiative.
I was very happy to be part of such a trip. After the Monorail ride nine of us continued discussions over some Asian food of which the Malaysian curry was most scrumptious.