Metro Cannot Substitute Commuter Rail: Indiscriminate extension of Delhi Metro to Satellite Cities is a bad idea!

Dear Section Editor,

Thank you for soliciting comments of viewers.

Part – I of your special story talks about the current and prospective network of the Delhi Metro. It is impressive by all means. Yet there are many problems with the metro currently such as feeder transport for last mile connectivity being just one of them that gets the most attention, perhaps rightly deserved. I will talk about a related yet highly under reported issue – the lack of vision in developing a regional commuter rail network.

Metro is great for the city, however, one problematic aspect of metro’s expansion is the rampant increase in the length of existing lines – for instance the extension of the CS – Badarpur line to Faridabad (recently reported by your newspaper to be the longest line of Delhi) or the further extension of the Gurgaon line to Manesar. These are fairly nonviable because the time taken to travel mitigates the benefit for most commuters. For instance, consider the present Dwarka – CP line, it takes 1 hr to reach CP and perhaps 2 hrs to reach Noida. If that line was to go Greater Noida also that would mean perhaps 2.5 hrs to go from somewhere in Dwarka to somewhere in Greater Nodia. Add to that the 15 minute last miles on each side. 3 hrs. Shared taxis, car pools can both achieve this in much shorter time ( perhaps 1.5 – 2 hrs). The only people who would use the Metro are people who cannot afford anything more than the buses currently to travel these long distances. And perhaps not, because they are unable to afford the metro either! The private transport users shall not switch for such distances. And what makes us think that in 2021, even Rohtak, Sonepat and Mathura may demand extensions of metro all the way to them. And our powers to be may just yield for vote banks!

The solution, instead of making the metro lines insufferably long, is to capitalize on and upgrade the existing commuter rail network. Let me give you two examples from the existing networks in the Delhi-NCR region.

First , there is some talk of building a high speed line from Gurgaon to Airport. With the rather tepid response to the current Airport line, not sure how feasible that one is. Currently both our airports, Domestic and International have a railway line running very close to them ( Palam and Shahabad Mohammadpur are the two stations. respectively) This railway line goes further to Gurgaon, and inside many parts of inner Delhi on the other side, where it originates from. With the available railway land, why can an additional pair of railway lines, not be laid alongside this route to run commuter trains. And there can be shuttles or even an airport train from the terminals to these existing stations.

Similarly, while we are enthusiastically talking about taking the metro into Faridabad, this alignment is almost parallel to the existing Indian Railway alignment between Okhla and Palwal. I agree that that is a busy route with freight and passenger traffic from long distance trains, but an additional pair of lines with upgraded rakes can provide a fabulous service right upto Mathura, not just Delhi and Faridabad. Already the 20 odd local services that run between Faridabad and Nizamuddin are quite full. There are more such existing rail alignments in Delhi to the entire NCR (Sonepat in the North, Rohtak in the NorthWest) that can be upgraded to provide excellent commuter rail service. Even from a social perspective, these alignments are embedded in the daily lives of people which can drive usage.

In conclusion, I would like to suggest that while metro is essential for the city, making the metro lines longer and longer is an unsustainable and inefficient public transport provision. The focus should be on capitalizing on existing commuter rail alignments. London, Chicago, New York all have such arrangements too, for those of you not satisfied without some western parallels

I understand that the letter is rather long for including as such as a viewer comment in the section, but perhaps you can provide a link to it while it stays elsewhere on the web!

Thank you,

Inverse Snobbery Revisited : A midnight Rumination!

To believe that I am really burning midnight oil, I sometimes make use of the library late at night. Cold October nights at Chicago coupled with the infamous reputation created by the local crime charts, walking back a mile at 2:30 am is not advisable. No prizes for guessing that owning cars is a luxury few graduate students afford. Agreed, second hand cars are cheap so is gas, but overheads like a parking permit (even on campus) and insurance make this an unaffordable luxury for most of us.

Our university understands the need to ship us safely in and around campus late at night, and runs two services. First of these is the public transport option, a plain Jane campus shuttle which runs at designated timings and is free for university fraternity. However there is another option called SafeRide, a privately run fleet of cars, by the university which work like dial a cab, but for free. It is then a no-brainer that saferide is surely the option, as it is ‘on demand’ and also ‘point to point’. No need to walk the last 100 metres or synchronize with the shuttle timings. Not for me, though.

The reliance on private transport, which has led to decline in public transport quality in most cities, is one area where I don’t agree with Americans. And precisely for the same reason I do not use SafeRide, when good public transport(bus) is available why encourage taxis, so what if they are both free. And hence I scoff at most grad students, who in my (voiced) opinion, abuse safride.

I may be correct in theory, but thinking about it in practice, not necessarily so. Firstly both services are hired vehicles that are run by the university. The shuttle is often empty with 4-5 people ( on many occasions I am the only one riding it, of course all others are comfortable in their taxis). So now a 50 seater bus which runs a long distance, for just 1-2 people does not fit within my public transport advocacy framework. A 4 seater cab which operates when called into service, and is often utilised to 50% capacity, is perhaps a better idea.

Despite this, I would still stand by the bus that runs with 1 person, and continue to label SafeRide as an undeserved luxury offered by a rich private university! Am I being an inverse snob, after all ?