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home  > article index > delhi metro article

Delhi Metro -
brand new

click on any picture to see big photo in popup window

Delhi's expensive new pet project is the Delhi Metro, an underground and overground mass transit system. First talked and thought about in the 1950s, it became a viable proposition in the 1990s. 1995 saw the registration of the DMRC, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, a company in equal partnership by the Government of India and the Delhi Territory Government. Three years later actual construction work started. And just in time; though Delhi's traffic jams are not as bad as Bangkok’s, with 13% of families in India's capital owning a car and monthly car sales shooting up, the clogging up of Delhi's roads is getting worse by the week. The 2 billion Euro project of phase 1 which is designed to carry 2 million commuters per day includes three lines, two of which run in west east direction, one in north south direction.

Initial chaos on the Delhi Metro

Delhi Metro Tis Hazari station  
Tis Hazari stationof the Delhi Metro

On the 24th of December 2002 one section of Line 1 was inaugurated by Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, the next day it was open to the public. The 8.3 km long stretch now fully operational from the Tis Hazari courts to Shahadra lies to the north of Old Delhi and stops at 6 stations, including Kashmir Gate, where the ISBT (Inter State Bus Terminal) is situated. The opening of the Metro meant chaos for the first few weeks. This stretch of the Metro has a capacity for 200.000 commuters per day. On its opening day it was immensely overcrowded with 1.2 million enthusiastic and curious people trying out the system and having a good day out on a bank holiday. So many electronic tokens for the automatic ticket gates were taken home as souvenirs, that there was an acute shortage of tokens at the ticket counters - in some cases they ran out completely. The emergency intercoms installed in all carriages eventually had to be switched off, as so many people buzzed the driver to tell him to drive faster!

The Indian art of queuing

  delhi metro ad for queuing
  Ad placed in the Hindustan Times by the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation.

Queuing is not one of India’s strong points at the best of times. In the blinkered way government undertakings go about ignoring the obvious, there are no metal railings for "queue control" for the ticket counters, and so it's the old game of pushing, elbowing, sneaking past under other people's armpits, wheedling ones way through a whole mass of sweaty bodies, pushing money through the little hole of the counter glass window. The ticketing staffs lack of experience with the computerized ticketing system doesn't help. In the early days of the service it got so bad that the DMRC finally placed full or half page ads in national newspapers, beseeching Delhi's population not to take "joy rides", not to disturb the train drivers, to please leave the plastic tokens behind and gave instructions on how to queue.

Expensive rickshaw - cheap Metro

We are back in Delhi in July. Due to the start of the monsoon temperatures are a pleasant 30 degrees and below, not like the scorching 46 degrees of June when we left. So it's cool enough to venture out of our air-conditioned room to try the air-conditioned Metro train. Obviously we get shafted by the rickshaw driver who takes us to Kashmir Gate station (see also - scams part 3, vultures on wheels, rickshaw wallahs). But we think what the hell, another two years in which they can stuff the tourists, but after that, once the Metro connects Connaught Place with Old Delhi, they'll whinge and whine about the loss of revenue. Serves them right!

Kashmir Gate station is very spacious, very clean, very modern. It clearly has been built with future expansion in mind, when a lot more commuters will use the system. Guards show passengers how to use the electronic tokens on the entrance gates (including us, as we look for a slot to push the tokens inside; instead you have to just press it against the marked area on the gate). Tickets are cheap, depending on the distance, it'll cost you 4 to 7 Rs. Trains are running in roughly 10 minute intervals from 6 o'clock in the morning till 10 o'clock in the evening. Electronic indicator boards show the destination and time remaining for the next train arrival. Just like on most London underground stations then, but here in Delhi they didn't have to wait for them for over 100 years! Signs proclaim that photography, smoking and spitting is forbidden, and people actually stick to it: no fag butts on the regularly swept floors, no posing Punjabi family grinning maniacally into a camera, no paan stained walls or corners.

The inscrutable escalators

Escalators are a little known phenomenon in Delhi. At some of them guards watch and help people to get on and off, at others "passengers" look a bit confused or excited before they timidly get on. Two sadhus stand indecisively in front of the escalators and watch the metal steps rolling upwards. They see us and let us pass (a very unusual occurrence in India to be let in front of somebody). After they observe what we do, they also find the courage to nervously jump on. A woman in a blue sari watches her two excited kids and her husband rolling upwards. He tries to encourage her to get on, but in vain, instead she walks over to the normal staircase and climbs the steps in the traditional way.

Flash, new, silver and air-conditioned

The train arrives. It is new, shiny and clean, the no drinking, no eating, no graffiti policy seems to be working. Each of the 4 wide carriages have seating for 60 and standing space for 325 passengers. The initial on-rush of the inauguration period has subsided, there are enough seats for all of us. Most of the other passengers look like they're only curious just like us and don't have a special urge or need to go to Shahadra, one of Delhi's less exciting suburbs.

It's two separate worlds: sitting in the flash, silver, air-conditioned Metro train driving for a short while next to an old rickety train on the main rail line, passing some residential areas and some slums, going under a bridge where some poor sods have built their homes consisting of a blanket and a couple of cooking pots.

But the usual coffee/sugar problem

Delhi Metro Shahadra station  
Shahadra Station where the Delhi Metro currently terminates.

According to the DMRC made a loss on the fares of about Rs 26 lakh (roughly 37,000 pound sterling) within the first three months. But the company gets additional revenue from letting parking lots and shopping complexes (of which we didn't see any). Presumably the coffee/tea stall in the Shahadra station works on a concession basis. Nice big coffee machines, a menu of about 8 different kinds of coffee. I order a coffee with and one without sugar. "No, sorry, without sugar not possible. But with little sugar possible." I am almost relieved, I am still in India after all!

Kirsten Aug 03
 Additional information:
 Delhi Metro Rail Corporation
 Metro network map
 India Yahoo news about joy riders

Update nov 03: On the 3rd of October 2003 Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee inaugurated a new section of line 1 between Trinagar and Tis Hazari (4.5 km). The usage of the Delhi Metro is expected to go up from 40,000 to 80,000 commuters per day.

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