by Roopesh Kohad
Today is one of the most memorable day of my life as I have just come after experiencing the Delhi Metro. It may also be one big day for Delhi and may be for many more cities in India. I feel rejuvenated and there is a feeling of achievement for me as a citizen of Delhi and India though I may not have contributed anything. Who says big projects can't be executed in India? I hope this project becomes a model for every other infrastruture project in India. Amen!
So now onto the reality. Yesterday in the office I saw all the newspaper splattered with Metro advertisements though I don't know about electronic media as I have not seen television for one last three days. Earlier I had thought that I will go in the afternoon to catch the action but changed my mind to catch the very first train. The way it is said in bollywood lingo "First Day First Show". So I slept yesterday with alarm of 4:00 AM. From day before yesterday cold wave and rain has swept the whole Delhi and adjoining area. I thought getting out of quilts at such an hour will be difficult for most poeple so it would be cakewalk at metro but I was going to be proved wrong.
I got up at 4:30 AM, left home at 5:00 AM. It was pitch dark, fog and very cold throughtout the 18km drive to Shahdara from Noida. I reached Shahdara station at 5:35AM. In between I gave lift to a "Metro Sahayak(Helper)" who had his duty at Welcome station next to Shahdara. Shahdara station has elaborate parking, sqauare shaped compounds, one for each type of vehicle. When I reached there, 50 people were already there, though station was closed. It has normal shop like shutters to close the entrance.
Slowly the number grew as people dropped in. Everybody was talking about how far they have come like me to experience the metro. Few DMRC employees came and went inside through quarter open shutter and some passangers also stormed the station. Zee news camera and some reporters also came. AajTak was conspicuous by its absence. Shutter was finally open at 5:45AM and lo, people ran to queue up at the counters. They were on both sides 8 on each side though only three on one side and one on other side opened. The personnel at the counters were sleek handsome young men, wearing brownish-cream suit and smile on their face.
After this here was the low point of whole experience. Though there was a queue, some uncooperative elements mobbed the counters to get the tickets first. There were some shouting among people. Few women came and made a "Ladies line" like many places in India. Though there was some information about tickets on station walls but none was depicting the entire process of travelling either using tokens or smart cards. Each person was taking some time which is acceptable as this was the first time. My turn came and I bought smart card of 100 Rs. denomination, valid for one year, for which I had to pay 200 Rs., 100 more for seurity which can be refunded. The tourist travel card, which is valid for one day, somebody said is only for tourist like foreigners. By the time I got the card, first train had left around 6:10 AM. Sigh!!!
Now station was bustling, just like any suburban station in Mumbai. There were many DMRC people on duty who were manning the Fare machines at entry-exit meticulously helping each passenger. Many security personnel were there from Group4, Delhi Police and Metro's own. Most of the people there seemed to be from middle class who had very little chance to hi-tech equipments like ATM, credit cards, computers or security access system. This was evident through their body language, over enthusiasm or trouble with fare machines. Somebody would over-step or start walking before machines resets. The station walls had very few informative boards as compared to wall area. The ticket counters and other empty space was at ground level whereas platforms were elevated, some two building floors up. So finally, I also went inside showing my card to the machine. There was a Dong!
There were stairs as well as escalators, which were working. I went to platform number, 1 or 2 I don't remeber. Platform was already full of people, some 500 to 1000. There was even a Santa Claus to cheer up the metro passengers on Christmas. Equivalent number of people must have left in the first train. There is no place to sit anywhere in the whole station which is true for all other stations signifying the fast paced metro culture. There are yellow lines across all the platforms in all stations for people to stand behind them lest they collide with train.
Finally, the train started shunting. Wow, what a beauty, its two orange lights glowing, LED display showing 001 and its horn so loud and sharp. As it made its way into the platform, people started shouting slogans, "Bharat Mata ki Jai!". Then some people started "Jai shree Ram"! God..., this saffronisation will never be away. I thought somebody would "DMRC ki Jai!" or "Engineers ki Jai" but none did.
It was clicks galore at platform as many people took photgraphs. I also clicked away in this free for all frenzy. As soon as the doors opened there was huge uproar and clapping. People jumped and ran like some dog is behind them, to find to their surprise that whole train is connected, one big tube in which you could drift anywhere. I also boarded from one of the doors. After a minute or two, doors closed automatically and we left again with huge uproar inside.
Then I started inspecting the train from inside. It was spacious and well-lit by white light. All the holding bars vertical or horizontal were stainless steel, infact seats are also of stainless steel but color is light silvery grey. The walls were off-white with huge windows. There was a running, multi-colored LED display which showed information both in Hindi and english like "Delhi Metro Welcomes You", "Next station is so and so" etc. There were frequent announcement about keeping away from doors, next station is this and doors will open on this side. There was a map of metro including unfinished corridor above the door, just like locals in mumbai, though neat and bigger.
The floor was non-slippery, black in color. The overhead handles were flexible, attached to the bar using a spring, red in color. The warning signs were in green. There was a plate about manufacturer, "Rotem and Mitsubishi", in every coach. Each coach had a number which was displayed inside. It might be used when some passengers complains about any problem in his coach, he can talk to driver and tell him his coach number. Example coach number is M108. About dynamics of train. The acceleration is good , though you may need to hold on if you are not attentive.
There are no joints in rails so you never hear any clickety-clat. The train speed after RDSO tests has been clipped to max of 50 kmph. Stopping is also smooth, far from normal IR trains. The doors opened in two jerks, first jerk would like releasing the tension and second like pulling it apart. The level of coach floor is same as that of platform and distance between coach and platform is very less even for a foot to go in. Don't know for other staions. The vestibule in coaches is as wide as the coach. There is a floating platform placed on top the joint which is easy to step on and travel.
The tracks on surface corridor are similar to normal IR tracks except that they are mush cleaner. On the elevated corridor, the tracks are joint to the concrete hollow bed i.e. there is a ground level of concrete structure over which two vertical, 2 feet or so slabs slightly wider that rails, on top of which the rails are joint. There is no ballast on elevated corridor. The place where surface and elevated corridor meets will be interesting to see.
The whole metro tracks are fenced with concrete slabs upto 10 feet high with barbed circular wire on top of it, so any tresspassing by any element is ruled out. At some places on surface corridor, the embankment is too high, still, fence has been kept at the ground level, i.e. the fence will not obstruct view of train from a distance. The normal IR line to Saharanpur via Shahdara is parallel to metro. Sometimes they come as close as 20 meters.
The overhead structures like masts, catenary and turnouts are identical to normal IR structures. At one point when IR and metro tracks were close by and I at a distance could not make out which mast belong to which track. Only with closer observation could I make out. Though there must be some difference but would require closer inspection.
The atmosphere inside the train was electric. Everybody was going here and there, sitting, standing, changing seats, leaning against bars and doing what not. There were and 2-3 camera crew. Young boys were asking them to take their video and they were obliging. Somebody had brought sweets too. Another hint of saffronisation was the few RSS people, clad in their typical "khakhi" nickers, bare legs even in this chill. I hope metro remains isolated from this saffron brigade. Otherwise, they will ask for performing a puja at each station, may ask for establishing an idol in each station like they recently did at Kutab Minar. No offence meant to anyone.
The kids and auntyjis having time of their life, always used to congested buses and trains. At each station large crowd was gathered to cheer each train. People were waving both inside and outside the train to each other. Due to dark and dense fog at certain places, much could not be seen outside the train.
Finally in ~15 min we reached the Tis Hazari station. There was a "mela" sort of atmosphere there. Huge crowd. I got down from train, took stair and came down to level of ticket counters which is still elevated for this station. I stayed there for few minutes watching the scene. The people with tokens at the exit were asked to submit the tokens. Though they are supposed to be collected in machines, but because of huge crowd, tokens were also being collected in "buckets"!
There are two ramps on Tis Hazari court side from this station. One goes bang inside the court premises and other ends just in front of a stinking garbage bin cum open urinal near to St. Stephen's hospital. Aaaargh! MCD doesn't even have a sense of shame to cleanup the mess just outside the station.
Still sun had not risen and fog was there. Visibility was there but due to rains last day, whole atmosphere was damp. I took a stroll and came to a Tea Shop which was just beside the road below elevated metro structure. I could see the corridor taking curve towards ISBT. I decided to stay there and click any incoming train. But it took one hour(!) before the next train arrived. I was just standing there hoping that it will be there any moment. Atlast it came, clicked and away it went into the station. So now I decided to go back to Shahdara.
I went up to station. The Group4 security person stopped me for bag checking which surprised me as today seemed to be free for all day. Then he found camera inside and said it is not allowed. I said, I won't be clicking inside to which he said, let me check and asked me to wait. I waited there as I was not at all worried as this cannot be enforced. You can not photograph, nor can you eat inside, that does not mean we can't carry any photography equipment or any eatable! He asked his senior who said no probs. So I went upstairs, again huge rush at Fare machines.
There were few foreigners visible who were watching this operation. I think BBC correspondent was also there. Anyways. So I went ahead in one machine and lo, the machine refused to accept the card. The metro sahayak also tried many times but no success. Then he gave it to his colleague on other side for "exit". Now "exit" means that when you get off at any station, you must sense your card to the Fare machine, so that appropriate fare is deducted from the balance. He also tried to "exit" but nothing happened. So I became a unique case of a person having a card but card is not working.
Now ten metro people were suggesting different things which I don't remember. One of them took me to a special counter. I told the person that I have come from Shahdara 1.5 hours ago and now this is not working. He told me that there is a time limit before which you must "exit" your card otherwise, it becomes defunt and you need to specially reactivate again paying some penalty.
Here I would like to point out that though there were so many ads in print and TV (I can't say definitely) but none of them explained how to undertake whole journey. If DMRC could present a graphical/animated sequence in media then it would have been helpful. This procedure was not depicted even in stations. May be this is not required as people get used to the procedure, everything will be alright. The fellow then reactivated my card without penalty and now the machine accepted my card. I went to platform, again huge crowd, whole families with Grandfather/mother, kids, infants and all. Whole family travelling to experience the metro. I must say, DMRC's revenue has started on an auspicious value!
A train came from shahdara side, people disembarked, it just went 50-100 m ahead and crossed over to down line towards Shahdara and reversed, so simple! This time also journey was smooth. Though at Kashmere Gate there was a pungent smell which other people also felt and concluded to be from brakes. I didn't have any idea of metro rolling stock technology so I did not comment.
Again in 15 min we reached Shahdara. This time I went and "exit"ed my card. The frequeny seemed to had risen by 8:30AM as we crossed two trains in Tis hazari direction. Then I came out of station, saw a board for restaurant, went there but gaurd said, it is not open, somebody said it is not even ready. Same with toilet outside station premise, sever pipe line has still not been laid.
Clicked an incoming train. Now I had to decide what to do next. I had earlier decided that I will go to each station enroute but that would have taken a lot of time so decided not to. Then I thought of going back to Tis hazari on my scooter to see how long does it take to cover distance equivalent to metro distance. It took me only 15 minutes to reach Tis hazari as this being a holiday, so less traffic, less jams. Though road is certainly very bad. Otherwise it takes 30+ minutes to go by own vehicle and 45 by bus. So I covered the distance watching 2-3 metro trains and all its station buildings.
At Tis Hazari, I again thought of atleast going to Kashmere Gate station and check out ISBT. Metro goes right through the ISBT premises. This time I boarded without any hiccups and got down at Kashmere Gate. Went down the stairs and one of the exit takes you to the mouth of ISBT's formal entrance. I came out of ISBT and climbed a flyover parallel to metro elevated structure about of same height. Here I clicked few pics, though because of haze and wrong direction of sun the photos are not supposed to come out good.
Then I came back to Tis Hazari and decided to go back to Noida. The parkings at all metro stations is spacious as long as non-passengers don't start parking their vehicles which I think is wishful thinking. Such safe, clean parking for free is a free hotcake. While I was riding back to my office in Noida to report my experience I clicked few pics. Infact I stopped at Shastri Park station which is in the middle of huge empty space. The land around the station I think has been acquired by DMRC but nothing has come up there.
The station is a bit far from the main road but ample amount of parking space. From this station, the Rail-Road bridge over Yamuna was also visible. Two-three trains passed over it which I clicked but too far to identify the trains. The station building was under finishing stage. Though I did not go inside.
Here while going back one person asked me for a lift. He was a untidy guy complaining about how far the premises is from main road. He had also travelled in metro but said he did not like it even a bit. When I asked he could not give any plausible reason. I dropped him and went on my way. In between I clicked two more pics, one of train and other of Welcome station. Then I had to take a turn towards Noida and bid goodybe to metro.
I have the travel card left with 82 Rs. left. I may use it over an year but refunding it, no way! I am going to keep the card with me forever as a souvneir. Thanks for reading till here and hope you liked it :-) The pics, there may not be any dearth of them on the net but will try to post as soon as I am able to scan them. You know I have cutshort my camera roll and developed and prinnted the photographs. They were in my hands today 1:30PM!