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Old fleet on tracks, Metro off track

The retirement of the old and rickety Metro rakes has been derailed yet again to ensure a train every four minutes.

More than half of the coaches in the Metro fleet are at least three years past the sell-by date and experts warn that unless the old coaches are refurbished or replaced, safety could be compromised on.

The plan, according to a Metro spokesperson, is to initially run trains every four minutes from 9am to 11am and 5pm to 7pm. Officials say this would require at least 31 more rakes but even after all 13 AC rakes join the Metro fleet, the total count would be 31.

“To meet the target set by the railway minister, we have to run 320 trains every day by the end of this year. Also, according to plan, trains will run at four-minute frequency in the peak hours from August,” said a senior Metro official.

To be able to achieve that, Metro must abandon its plan of rehabilitating seven rakes and phasing out 11. “Initially, it had been planned that the rakes would be replaced in phases after the AC rakes started joining the fleet,” said a Metro source.

But now the authorities will have to wait till 14 more AC rakes are built. That may be a long wait. Railway ministry sources said it might take several years before those roll out of the factory. “The tendering process is in the final stages,” a ministry official said.

Till then, Metro will have to run with rakes that have either outlived their running time or are nearing the end. Sources said more than half of Metro Railway’s 144 coaches should have been “condemned” by now. Around 80 of the 144 coaches have been in service since the first train rolled out of Dum Dum in 1984.

According to experts, a Metro coach should be junked when it is past 25. In early 2010, the Metro authorities had sought special permission from the railway ministry to continue running 24 coaches that were past their shelf life and another 60 that were on the threshold.

“The older the rakes, more the maintenance required. If the frequency is increased, the time available for maintenance would be greatly reduced,” said S.R. Thakur, a former additional member of the railway board.

Technical snags are frequent in the old rakes, making it difficult to maintain even the existing peak-hour frequency of six minutes. The doors often don’t function properly and there are problems with the brakes as well.

“Technical snags occur almost every day, making it difficult to maintain the six-minute frequency. It’ll be difficult if the frequency is increased further,” said an official.

“If a train is stranded at a station even for a few minutes, the entire schedule will go haywire,” said Thakur.

Metro sources said the extension of the Metro route from Tollygunge to New Garia had stretched things even further. Earlier, a coach had to run around 6,000km a month but with the extension, it has to cover 10,000km a month.