Calcutta, Nov. 25: Metro Rail is bracing for an addition of 30,000 to 40,000 commuters on each weekday after a connection with a local train network locks into place from tomorrow afternoon.
An underground walkway will connect the New Garia local train station with the New Garia Metro station, less than 100 metres away.
“As many as 86 local trains will stop at New Garia and we will have to take the load of 30,000 to 40,000 more passengers who would get down from the suburban trains and take the Metro to the central business district,” a senior Metro official said.
Adhir Chowdhury, the minister of state for railways, will open the New Garia local train station on Monday afternoon. So, the real impact is expected to be felt from Tuesday morning.
In the absence of easy connectivity with Metro, most local train passengers heading to central Calcutta now get down at Sealdah. For those coming from distant Diamond Harbour, Canning, Baruipur or Lakshmikantapur, the only alternative was getting down at Garia, taking a Rs 6 auto ride to Birji and taking the Metro from Shahid Khudiram station.
“Now we will have no such problem,” said Jatin Panwa, a Sonarpur resident who works for a private firm in Chandni Chowk. Panwa now gets down at Sealdah station and walks to office.
If Panwa is excited, Sanjib Mukherjee is worried. When he takes the Metro at Kalighat at 9am, it is “already crowded”. “I shudder to think what will happen now,” said the marketing executive.
PhD student Arijita Ghosh was wondering if she should take the cab to go to her institute from Hazra.
Metro now carries about 6.5 lakh people on weekdays, an increase of over 1 lakh in less than a year.
In the morning and evening peak hours, the trains often carry so many that doors refuse to close. Although the average passenger load on a train is a little more than 2,400, the peak-hour load crosses 3,500. “We fear that once the new interface becomes operational, the peak load will cross 4,000,” said a senior Metro official.
According to him, the only way to handle the surge is increasing the frequency of trains. “Trains will be run at five-minute frequencies for three hours in the morning to tackle the extra rush,” he said.
The senior Metro official added: “But that won’t reduce the overcrowding by much. In the existing system, we don’t have the option of increasing the frequency further.”
In order to make up for the additional trains in the morning, trains would be operated every seven minutes instead of six after 2pm.
Metro Rail now runs trains at a five-minute frequency between 9.40am and 11.15am. From the first week of December, the trains will run at a five-minute frequency from 8am to 11am. But officials said it might not be enough to ease the overcrowding.
As 15 of the 23 stations in the New Garia-Dum Dum line are underground, Metro doesn’t have the option of increasing the number of coaches per train. The underground stations are designed to handle only eight-coach trains.
Officials said it was impossible to increase the frequency further in the near future. A train, after arriving at the terminal stations at Dum Dum or New Garia, takes at least four minutes to change tracks. Add to this another minute for passengers to disembark. Also, a train runs at a maximum speed of 30kph during the changeover, about 15kph slower than its speed between stations.
“At such a speed, it’s not possible to change tracks any faster,” said an official.
Another option would be to add more rakes. According to an official, at least two spare rakes should be kept at the terminal stations if the frequency has to be increased to four minutes from five.
Metro now has 29 rakes, of which 20 run on weekdays and make 270 trips.
“But seven of these rakes have long outlived their shelf life and need to be condemned. These rakes often develop snags in door operations and the brakes. In order to increase the frequency further, we need new rakes,” the official pointed out.
“We are trying to work out a plan to run trains at a four-minute frequency during peak hours but it will be difficult to achieve that within a year,” he added.
To tackle the extra rush, Metro will introduce 20,000 more tokens and 5,000 additional smart cards.