Metro Railway’s 10am Sunday start was greeted by packed compartments on the first day and a chorus by commuters for trains to be available till at least 11pm on all days.
The bustling platforms and the jostling for space inside the rakes could have been mistaken for a weekday rush after junior railway minister Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury flagged off the Sunday morning Metro service at Esplanade station.
But along with cheers for the morning Metro came calls to extend the timing of the night’s last train from either end to at least 11pm. Young commuters and professionals said Metro services till 11pm would be “a logical extension” of the move to advance the Sunday start by four hours.
The last north and south-bound trains presently leave New Garia and Dum Dum stations at 9.45pm, after which commuters have to choose between getting into a crowded bus and hunting for a taxi that wouldn’t charge extra.
“We often work till late or go out on weekends. Once you have missed the last Metro, there are only taxis to fall back on because buses aren’t available on most routes after 10pm. Metro services for at least an extra hour will be a boon,” said Prateem Sarkar, a 26-year-old bank employee.
Sanjib Mukherjee often works till late in the evening and finds it difficult to return home if he can’t catch the last Metro.
“Buses are few at that hour and there is no Metro train from Esplanade after 10pm. So I invariably have to pay extra for a taxi ride home,” said Sanjib, a resident of Lake Road.
Calcutta University student Supratim Sengupta said Metro services for an extra hour was the only solution to commuters being fleeced by taxi drivers. “The city stays awake much beyond 10pm and the Metro authorities have to realise that,” the resident of Naktala said.
Metro officials said increasing the duration of services without adding manpower would be unfeasible. “Our Sunday hours have increased but our staff strength is the same. We are facing a shortage of motormen (drivers) and extending night services won’t be possible without increasing our manpower,” a senior Metro official said.
The immediate challenge is to ensure that the new Sunday morning shift functions smoothly, sources at Metro Bhawan said.
Homemaker Sharmistha Ghosh, a resident of Kudghat, took a morning train on Sunday for Christmas shopping with her son. “I had planned to leave home at 2pm but got to know that trains would run from 10am on Sundays. I immediately decided to step out earlier,” she said.
More than 55,000 people boarded Metro trains between 10am and 2pm, according to preliminary data. A Metro official said the Sunday footfall might hit 3.5 lakh. The average commuter count for Sundays is 1.5-2 lakh. On weekdays, the average footfall is about 6 lakh.
The increased duration of Metro services on Sunday means there will be 92 trains instead of 76. Till 2pm, trains will run at 30-minute intervals. On weekdays, trains run at a minimum interval of five minutes.
Metro hopped into a train for a ride from Esplanade to Kalighat at 11.45am and found the compartment packed.
Someone was off to meet relatives, another was going for a movie. On the train back, there was a group headed for the Maidan to spend the afternoon lazing in the sun.
For 57-year-old Subrata Chakraborty, a Sunday Maidan regular, the morning Metro was “the best New Year gift”.
“I come to the Maidan to play cricket, jog or just hang out with friends. Now I can easily and comfortably travel from Patuli in 45 minutes,” Chakraborty said.