| An attendant shows a thumbs up sign as the train carrying VIPs leaves Seelampur station. (AFP)
New Delhi, Dec. 24: The Prime Minister’s and deputy Prime Minister’s friendly speeches warmed the political chill on a cold winter morning today, creating the right atmosphere for Delhi Metro’s launch.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his deputy L.K. Advani were among the first passengers on the inaugural train. They bought tickets to board at Kashmere Gate and travelled to Seelampur.
The Metro will be thrown open to people from Wednesday.
As Vajpayee pulled a lever and waved the green flag, a steel-coloured train, with a red strip down the middle, moved on the track for the first time.
The Metro would transport hundreds of thousands of people daily on an 8.3-km stretch between Shahdara and Tis Hazari, a corridor touching parts of east, north-east and north Delhi.
“It is a festive occasion for Delhiites, whose long cherished dream has taken shape today,” Vajpayee said. “This project is an example of international cooperation, with Japan and (South) Korea providing all sorts of support.”
“Then, how can the Centre and the Delhi government not cooperate with each other'” the Prime Minister asked, trying to play down the BJP-led Centre’s tussle with the Congress-led Delhi government over their attempts to extract political mileage out of the project.
With the Delhi Assembly polls scheduled for next year, the rival parties have been trying to corner credit for the Metro’s successful launch.
Advani, who headed the group of ministers for the project, agreed with Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit — present on the dais — that the project would not have taken off without Centre-Delhi government cooperation.
Union urban development minister Anant Kumar, his deputy O. Rajagopal, Delhi Lieutenant Governor Vijay Kapoor and Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) chairman Madan Lal Khurana were present on the occasion.
The spick and span stations looked like the interiors of an upmarket auditorium, with space for food stalls, customer care counters and ticket windows.
The four-coach imported train, with a maximum speed of 50 km an hour, will cover six stations in 13 minutes, including 30-second halts at every station. Starting at Seelampur station and ending at Tis Hazari, the train will carry 320 passengers in each trip.
Most of the happy passengers today had only one thing to say: “Never seen a train like this.” Some, who have been overseas, compared the Metro with the London Tube and those in France and the US.
Sanjeev Sharma, a disabled man employed with an NGO, said the Metro is disabled-friendly, too.
Driver R.C. Sharma felt “nice and glorified” being a part of the new experience.
As the train, on its inaugural ride full of journalists and politicians among others, sped on, the public address system kept warning: “Please stay clear of the doors” and announced the name of each station.
The clean coaches have certain new features such as an emergency call button that passengers can use to talk to the driver in times of distress.
DMRC deputy chief engineer S.K. Mishra told The Telegraph that the Metro has an automatic train protection system that brakes on its own if the train exceeds 50 km an hour[t]'#'\line '" it.
In four months, DMRC would install an automatic train operation system, a computerised programme designed to run the train on its own while the driver oversees things from the cabin, Mishra said.