May 28, 2013


Why am I even comparing the world class Delhi metro trains with the conventional Chennai suburban train system? Well, for one, I was recently in Chennai, the place where my parents are staying for the past five years. And so I had an opportunity to revive my memories of travelling in the Chennai suburban Electrical Motor Unit (that’s the actual name for it) daily from my house to the college during my undergraduate engineering years. Still what kind of comparison I am trying to make here? I mean the Delhi metro system is one of the most modern and efficient engineering metro rail projects in the world. The security system is intact, the safety during travel is ensured by auto closure of doors, the ticketing system is automated (and hence avoiding ticketless travel as well as the Ticket Checking Inspectors) and the compartments are air conditioned. And when it comes to cleanliness, it’s on par with the best maintained airports in India. In each compartment, the next station is conspicuously displayed on a digital board along with an orange LED glowing over the route map; plus a recorded voice announcement makes sure the relevant information is available without the necessity to enquire your fellow passenger (this is a feature I adore since I need not nag the fellow passenger nor I need to peek through the windows or doors in a crowded train during each stop to know whether my destination has arrived or not,). The metro is handicap-friendly and the passenger convenience is enhanced by the use of elevators, lifts and sleek over-bridges at appropriate places. The train frequency is adequate and is ‘unquestionably’ punctual.
So I don’t want to sound like a Luddite by trying to find flaws in the Delhi metro system and establish the banes of a modern technological system. No, that’s not my point. In fact, I adore the Delhi metro and would rate 9.5/10. The reduction of 0.5 points is to only to encourage non-complacency (as if the DMRC care about my ratings). Any comparison of the Delhi metro with the Chennai suburban metro against the features that I mentioned would be grossly imbalanced. Right in the first line of this blog post, I’ve used an adjective, ‘conventional’ to describe the Chennai metro system. It’s my belief that, anything ‘conventional’ or ‘traditional’ would carry an inherent intangible value to it. And so, I’m just trying to explore those values that it offers.
Cost: I don’t want to put the cost as the first parameter of comparison, but yet, it matters. A roundtrip travel of 25km each (say, a travel between the terminal stations in the same route) could cost up to Rs.50 in the Delhi metro, whereas it wouldn’t cost more than Rs.14 in the Chennai metro. And if you’re a season ticket holder, you can make the same travel within almost Rs.3. But, there’s no such thing as the season ticket or the free pass in the Delhi metro. I myself was a ‘First Class Scholar pass’ holder till the completion of my studies thanks to my dad who works in railways. Whereas the only discount the Delhi metro system offers you is a 10% discount on each travel if you opt for the use of prepaid metro card instead of the token. Even if Delhi metro offers a totally worthy ride for the ticket cost, it still would burn the pocket of an individual with limited means. And ironically enough, these people are the ones who have the most frequent travel needs. So Delhi metro seems to be prohibitive as a travel option for such people.
Time of operation: I’d like to put the time of operation as my second parameter. Though the Delhi metro is adequately frequent, the time of operation is just between 0600 hrs and 2300 hrs, whereas the first service of Chennai suburban metro system would start at 0400 hrs and the last service extends till 0030 hrs in the midnight. In my first year of engineering, while my parents hadn’t yet moved to Chennai, I used to visit them, and while returning, I would reach Chennai (Egmore station) in the wee hours of the morning, around 4 A.M. And guess what, I had a metro train waiting for me at that time to drop me at college.
Schedule: Delhi metro doesn’t publish a time schedule for their services, but Chennai metro does. This is really a hazy comparison, because, even though Delhi metro doesn’t have a published time table, the trains are frequent and I’ve not waited for any train more than 10 minutes at any time. But the published time table of the Chennai metro did help me more than once to plan some emergency travel requirements where a minute or two would matter the most.
Time of stoppage: Though the time of stoppage is almost comparable in both the cases, (20 sec for Delhi metro and almost 30 sec. for Chennai metro), in practice, the time you get to entrain/detrain is more in the case of Chennai metro. I mean, I really don’t want to put this as a point, but the fact is you can entrain/detrain a Chennai metro train even while the train has started moving (mostly while it has started to accelerate). It’s definitely not safe to do that, but surely you can’t say that you missed a train by a ‘fraction of a second’. This happened to me more than once in the Delhi metro, wherein my companion who was one feet ahead of me got in, but I didn’t, just because I was a fraction of a second behind him. This could never have happened in Chennai metro. You could get into the compartment even upto 15-20 seconds after the train has started moving. It’s unsafe and unadvisable to do that, yet the adrenaline rush felt good when I had to do that a half-dozen times to catch the train.   
The local charm factor: Though air-conditioned trains are a boon for the Delhi climate, but I prefer the open natural air and light you get while travelling in the Chennai metro. This is particularly suitable only in Chennai since the Chennai climate isn’t as extreme as Delhi. There’s a charm to experience the surroundings through the open windows and doors rather than experiencing it behind enclosed glasses. I mean, it’s not the ‘heritage Ooty train’ or the ‘magical Darjeeling toy train’ kind of charm, but yet, there’s this local charm; you can feel the dampness of the air during the monsoon, the cool breeze during the winters, the sweat during the summer, the blaring sounds from the temples and political propagandas during all the seasons, and maybe the smell from the local coffee shop or biriyaani stall (not to mention the notorious malodour from the famous ‘Coovum’).
The Delhi metro may soon be upgrading to unmanned robotic drivers and Chennai may soon be developing its own replica of the Delhi metro system. While I’m looking forward for such technological improvisations for the betterment of the public transportation infrastructure, I’ll fondly miss the suburban trains I once travelled through. 


  1. Good one, as always! :) Have the suburban trains been replaced by the Chennai metro or do they operate in a different route?

    1. Nope, Chennai metro isn't replacing suburban trains, atleast now.

  2. DO u remember the question put forth to us once when we showed our train trip photos!! How come your country train's door not shut while travelling and we answered with a sense of pride. Given this I must confess about MMTS in HYD. THE WORST sytem in terms of reliability and punctuality.