Prithviraj Chavan inaugurates India’s first monorail

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gsr-24518Mumbai: Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan on Saturday inaugurated India’s first monorail that will cut the travel time between Mumbai’s traffic-snarled suburban towns—Wadala and Chembur—by almost half.

With this Rs.3,000 crore project, India joins countries such as the US, Germany, China, Japan, Australia and Malaysia that run monorails.

On Saturday, Chavan travelled with a group of politicians and journalists in the first rake decorated with flowers to Chembur from Wadala.

“Welcome onboard RST 7. Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan wishes you a pleasant journey,” the host announced as India’s first monorail started its maiden journey at 3.57pm.

The Wadala-Chembur stretch will be thrown open for public from 7am in the morning on Sunday.

According to consulting firm EY, reinforcing transport infrastructure is critical for Mumbai where, on average, a resident spends four hours a day commuting.

Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), the nodal agency of Mumbai monorail, had decided to introduce this project as a feeder service to crowded and narrow areas on 28 September 2008.

To be sure, the monorail is not only expected to cut travel time between Wadala and Chembur—a 9km stretch—to 21 minutes from 40 minutes, but it is also working out cheap as MMRDA has fixed fares between Rs.5 and Rs.11 for its first phase of operations. There are five monorails in three colours, pink, green and blue, in the first phase of the project. Fifteen more trains will be added in the second phase.

Initially, the monorail will operate with four coaches and a combined carrying capacity of 2,300 passengers at every 15 minutes. In the later stages, the services will be four minutes apart.

Engineering and construction company Larsen and Toubro Ltd, in association with Scomi Group Bhd of Malaysia, has built first monorail for Mumbai.

“The project was supposed to complete in three years, but took five years to execute. We estimate around 7,500 passengers to travel per hour during peak hours (7am-10am and 5pm-8pm),” said P.L. Kurien, officer on special duty of monorail at MMRDA.

Greater Mumbai, which covers Colaba in the south to Mulund and Dahisar in the north and Mankhurd in the east, with a population of 16.4 million, houses twice as many people as New York City, says the website of EY.

Suburban Mumbai has a density of 20,925 persons per sq. km, twice that of New York’s 10,630 persons per sq. km.

“Complement this with the fact that the island city of Mumbai saw a decline in population, losing 140,000 residents, while the suburban areas gained 13.2 million, mostly driven by lower real estate prices in the suburbs,” said E&Y.

The second phase of the monorail project is a 11.2km-long stretch between Wadala to Sant Gadge Maharaj Chowk and it is expected to be ready by 2016.

This is the first monorail project in India and will be the second largest monorail project in the world when completed,” said Rajeev Jyoti, chief executive officer of the railway business group at Larsen and Toubro.

Meanwhile, MMRDA is working on other critical infrastructure projects, including the Navi Mumbai International Airport, the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL), a 35-km coastal road project, and Mumbai Metro. The much awaited Mumbai Metro was rolled by 2013 end. The 12-km metroline linking the eastern and the western suburbs of Mumbai is expected to give residents a public transport alternative to traffic-heavy road connections and packed suburban commuter trains.

Another delayed project MTHL will connect the city of Mumbai with Navi Mumbai. The coastal road will connect Marine Drive in south Mumbai with Kandivali in the north.

“Opening of monorail is a happy news for Mumbai,” Vinayak Chatterjee, chairman and managing director at Feedback Infra Pvt. Ltd, a professional and technical services firm in the infrastructure sector, said on Saturday. “It is very nice to see infrastructure projects taking off in Mumbai,” he added with a sarcastic note reflecting the delays in other infrastructure projects.