MUMBAI — Mumbai’s metro rail, delayed since 2011 and heading for a dispute with the government over fares, began service Sunday with thousands crowding the station to witness Hindu priests offer blessings.
Indian billionaire Anil Ambani-controlled Reliance Infrastructure’s unit Mumbai Metro One Pvt. will charge a promotional 10 rupees (20 cents) for a one-way ticket for the first 30 days, and later increase it to as much as 40 rupees, according to its website. The regional government wants it to charge between 9 rupees and 13 rupees in accordance with a contract it signed, Business Standard reported Sunday citing Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan.
Newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised bullet trains and reduced dependence on cars as he pushes for more investment in public transport.
Ambani and his wife Tina Ambani, a former Bollywood movie star, were part of the crowd that got on to one of the train’s pink and white cars. The train was decorated with flowers and took 27 minutes to travel the 12-kilometer stretch.
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Before taking the escalator up to the platform, the Ambanis prayed on the station’s ground floor. About 40 children sat on the carpeted floor in front of idols as two priests chanted prayers. Police officers struggled to control the rush of reporters, cameramen, passengers and children.
India now has about 140 miles of metro rail lines, almost all accounted for by New Delhi’s 190 kilometers. That compares with about 1,000 miles in China and New York City’s 659 miles of passenger track.
India needs to increase its total more than 10 times by 2031 to accommodate the expected surge in intracity commuters, reduce pollution and cut road fatalities, according to Venugopal Garre, Manish Agarwal and Saurabh Mishra, Barclays Bank analysts in Mumbai.
Infrastructure in India has failed to keep up with the demands of a population that’s the second biggest in the world. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh vowed a decade ago to make Mumbai another Shanghai even as creaky infrastructure, real estate that is among the most expensive in the world and urban squalor remain hallmarks of India’s financial center.
The Mumbai metro, whose construction started in 2007, connects the northwestern suburb of Versova to Ghatkopar in the east and was originally scheduled to commence service at the end of 2011. Reliance Infrastructure owns a 69 percent stake in the Mumbai Metro One Pvt. venture, which is building the metro and will operate it, while the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority holds 26 percent, according to Mumbai Metro One’s website.
Trains will run on an elevated line with 12 stations and the system is designed to reduce a 90-minute commute across the breadth of the city to 20 minutes, according to the website.
The Mumbai metropolitan region needs $60 billion of investment in public transportation over the next 20 years and the current plan falls short, according to estimates by Shirish Sankhe, Mumbai-based director at McKinsey. In a 2010 study, the consultant said India must spend $2.2 trillion by 2030 on urban transportation, housing and office space to boost infrastructure.