The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) inaugurated the 11.28 km long second phase of the first monorail project in Mumbai on March 3. The 8.26 km long first phase had been inaugurated in 2014. It’s sheer length might make it the world’s third longest monorail project, but in terms of delay in implementation, it might well be number one.
The project saw 20 missed deadlines in all across both phases. Operational hurdles including accidents, a lack of easy access to monorail stations and poor connectivity to other major transport modes had all but ensured that the first phase would crash into losses. Peak commuter traffic when services were shut down in 2017 following a fire was just 18,000 per day.
The second phase, however, has kicked off to a good start, with commuter traffic hitting 30,000 a day in the first week. However, it remains a far cry from the estimated 1.25 lakh passengers a day.
The monorail was first proposed in 2005 based on a transport survey conducted by the MMRDA which suggested that Mumbai’s bus services plied crowded, narrow areas at very slow speeds.
It was expected that the monorail would connect many parts of the city which were not linked to the suburban rail system or the then-proposed metro rail system. It was also assumed that it would be an efficient feeder to these transit networks offering an efficient, safe, air-conditioned, comfortable and affordable option to commuters.
However, delays on all levels marred the project even after the first phase was thrown open in 2014. The first phase’s operational losses too had become an issue, with the number of commuters reaching over `6 lakh each day. Malaysia’s Scomi Engineering, which manufactured the coaches had also been entrusted with operations, but accidents and technical glitches continued to ail the service. After a major fire in 2017, Scomi backed off from the project completely. The MMRDA then took over operations and the inauguration of the second phase has given the project a new lease of life.
While the response to the new service has been encouraging, MMRDA officials say the focus is now on streamlining operations. In all 9 trains were purchased initially, but only four are in operation now. The agency, officials add, is in the process of buying more coaches and rakes to bridge the gap.Easy access to monorail stations is also a critical issue. Access roads at most stations in Chembur refinery, Wadala, GTB Nagar and Bhakti Park area are in bad condition, with the areas poorly lit and secluded.
On the another level, activists are questioning why the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST), the agency that runs the city’s bus services, is not being given primacy in the city’s transport plan. After the glitches in the first phase, the MMRDA has dumped seven other monorail projects proposed in the city. It will, however, have to run the new project successfully to justify why it chose the monorail instead of strengthening the bus network.