As India’s largest city, Mumbai has 13 million inhabitants. Scientists project that by the year 2020, Mumbai’s population will swell to 28 million, making it the world’s most populous city.
Every day in Mumbai, more than 200 trains make over 2,000 trips along 300 kilometres of track, carrying more passengers per kilometre than any railway on earth.
Mumbai’s trains alone carry six million people per day—equivalent to the entire population of Israel.
Mumbai trains were built to hold 1700 passengers, but they often carry three times that number, leading to such notorious crowding that railways have given peak hours a special name: the Super Dense Crush Load. In order to keep women out of the Super Dense Crush, Mumbai offers one of the world’s few rail lines exclusively for women—the Ladies Special.
In the Central Traffic Control Room, the electronic map fills an entire wall and shows the movement of every train on the system, in real time. At peak hours in the Western system alone, 409 trains move along just four tracks, meaning that one delay will also affect the dozens of following trains—and each of the car’s 4500 passengers.
Every year in Mumbai, 3500 people die on the train tracks—an average of ten per day. Although there are pedestrian overpasses at every station, many passengers chose to save a few minutes by crossing the tracks instead—a dangerous decision.
Crossing the train tracks in Mumbai can be quite hazardous, but the trains themselves are extremely safe—the city has one of the best safety records in all of India. On the Western line, not a single crash has occurred in living memory.
Over the next four years, 35000 anti-collision device (ACD) units will be installed across India to prevent trains from reaching within a set distance of each other—not only helping to reduce accidents, but also increasing rail capacity.
Instead of receiving electricity from a third rail, Mumbai is powered by miles of wire that run above the tracks, carrying electricity through a complex network of substations. This DC system was installed in 1925, making it India’s first—and now most outdated—electric rail system.
The outdated DC system will soon be replaced by a more efficient AC system, which is much needed in Mumbai, since it will allow each engine to pull even more cars. The city has already tried to ease the crowding with this approach, and trains that pulled nine cars now pull 12, representing a 35% increase in capacity—yet they’re still more densely packed than any other trains on earth.
The painstaking process of track inspection and repair has recently made much more efficient with recent technology: an Ultrasonic Flaw Detection Machine uses sonogram waves to detect invisible cracks in the rail, while a tie tamping machine uses eight steel claws and a computerized alignment measurement system to assure all rails are secure and level.
Just one tie tamping machine can inspect 800 meters of track in an hour—a job that would take 65 men.
Mumbai trains carry 200,000 custom-made lunches every day, delivered around the city by 5,000 white-garbed couriers called dabbahwallahs. Perhaps the world’s only large-scale delivery system that works without any documents, most dabbahwallahs can’t read and instead use an efficient coding system of colours, numbers, and letters.
The dabbahwallahs’ century-old delivery system is recognized as one of the best managed supply chains in the world. Forbes magazine awarded the system its highest rating, Sigma Six—a rating shared with corporate giants like General Electric and Motorola, signifying less than one error per one million transactions.
Through vast 19th century landfill projects, British engineers combined the seven islands around Bombay into one land mass. The city soon became a very valuable port city and one of the world’s biggest cotton markets.
Gaining independence from Britain in the twentieth century, Bombay was recently renamed for an ancient goddess: Mumbai.
In many parts of Mumbai, walking is faster than driving through congested traffic. To ease this problem without consuming more land, a new eight-lane bridge will extend traffic four kilometres over the sea.
The bridge is so spectacular that it is expected to become a tourist attraction; even its roadbed segments are aerodynamically curved to deflect the city’s monsoons. Each of these segments weighs between 120 and 140 tons, the heaviest ever cast in India. When the entire bridge is complete, it will weigh about 340,000 tons—the weight of seven Titanics.
An Indian inventor has also recently developed a combination train and bus called the skybus, which avoids India’s usual problem of traffic obstructions by avoiding the ground altogether. Each car of the skybus hangs ten metres above the ground, using an upside-down version of the same technology that keeps conventional trains on track. It has yet to arrive in Mumbai, but a prototype is already running in the Indian state of Goa—at speeds of 100 kilometres an hour.
City planners are now devising new ways to move Mumbai’s residents—not just for a daily commute, but as part of permanent city expansion. This includes the planned construction of the first double-decker bridge in India, which will for the first time link eastern and western Mumbai, as well as the development of a new Mumbai—Navi Mumbai—the world’s largest planned city.