MUMBAI: The Indian Railways on Monday flagged off the country's first air-conditioned suburban local train for Mumbai commuters, 150 years after the first suburban local was hauled by a steam engine in 1867, officials said.
The Christmas and pre-New Year bonanza saw the first AC local's maiden run for the media, officials, some political party activists and commuters between Borivali and Churchgate on the Western Railway (WR).
Though a public holiday, there were hundreds of curious and wide-eyed commuters who crowded the Borivali station and other stations en route, which will start full-fledged operations from January 1, 2018, with 12 daily services.
According to WR chief spokesperson Ravinder Bhakar, six return services (total 12) will operate on the suburban sector at regular intervals on all weekdays, with the weekends kept free for maintenance purposes.
As per the current plans, of these 12 daily services, eight will be operated as 'fast trains' on the congested Churchgate-Virar (Palghar) sector, three between Churchgate-Borivali, both with halts only at major stations, while one will ply as a slow service halting at all stations between Mahalaxmi-Borivali.
Till Friday, the WR will operate six (three in each direction) services daily on an experimental basis and introduce full 12 services from January 1.
The WR has also announced an introductory fare to lure commuters to the new, 'cool' style of commuting, with the fare to be 1.2 times the cost of a first class one-way regular ticket, and later the fare will be 1.3 times.
This comes to an average minimum fare of Rs 60 and maximum of Rs 205 per single journey, and a monthly season ticket fare of between Rs 570 and Rs 2,070 for a commuter.
Manufactured by the Integral Coach Factory, Chennai, the full AC air-suspension coaches have a capacity of carrying nearly 6,000 commuters per rake, automatic door opening-closing system, LED lights, Emergency Talk Back system between commuters and guard besides a public address system, advanced GPS-based passenger information systems, speeds of upto 100 kmph, air-tight vestibules inter-connecting all 12 coaches, other modern amenities and the latest safety features for commuters.
The development was described as "historical" for Mumbai's lifeline, the suburban train network, which started in 1867 when the first local train was hauled by a steam engine.
However, railway history was created 14 year earlier - on April 16, 1853 - when the first train ran between Bori Bunder (now, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus) to Thane, a distance of 34 km, the first in India.
Sixty one years later on January 5, 1928, the first electric EMU train on WR was introduced and the suburban network continued to grow in leaps and bounds in the past 90 years.
On May 5, 1992, the WR introduced the world's first Ladies Special trains which have now become a regular feature and a trendsetter for similar services in India and some other countries.
Presently, the WR operates a whopping 1,355 suburban services daily transporting around 3.5 million passengers with 89 rakes in the districts of Mumbai, Thane and Palghar, besides the Central Railway servicing commuters in Mumbai, Thane, Palghar, Raigad and surroundings.
Initially, the suburban rakes had only four coaches, and were later upgraded to nine cars in 1958, but as passenger traffic increased, the WR converted all rakes to 12 cars from 1990, and introduced the first 15-car rakes - the longest suburban trains in the country, from November 2009, and the new era of airconditioned suburban travel that started on Monday.