MUMBAI (BLOOMBERG) – Mumbai restarted commuter train services for fully vaccinated residents from Sunday (Aug 15), a move that could tackle traffic jams that are popping up as Covid-19 cases drop off but also one that risks transmitting the virus across India’s financial hub.
Services had been halted since March 2020, making it the longest shutdown for a railway system that has survived floods, bomb blasts and power outages with only a day or two of suspensions.
While they had gradually re-opened for essential workers, only 1.6 million used the Central Line daily, for instance, about a fourth of its passenger load before the virus struck.
Authorities had feared contagion because Mumbai’s three railway lines on a typical day ferry more than 8 million people, with coaches so crowded that latecomers hang out of doorways.
The trains are the city’s main artery; they run from the teeming suburbs to the glass-and-concrete financial districts midtown, before traversing colonial-era docklands to eventually reach the old neighbourhoods housing the stock exchange and central bank.
Regulars know which “local” – as the trains are known colloquially – is dominated by stock-market chatter, and which ones by college students.
“It’s a good thing for train travel to open up,” said Mr Shrisha Acharya, a fixed income trader at DCB Bank Ltd. who has commuted by train for most of his 12 years in Mumbai. “It will be a bit risky but still after lockdown it’s the desperation that people need to go to work and it will be helpful for them.”
The city has been the epicentre at the start of both of India’s virus waves, the second of which peaked in May after the Delta variant spread rapidly across the population.
Data compiled by Apple Inc showed India witnessed the biggest gain in motor driving activity after restrictions and curfews were rolled back, and curtailed train services contributed to traffic snarls.
A labour strike in 1974 – the world’s largest recorded industrial action – had suspended Mumbai’s train services for 20 days and terrorist bombs in 2006 kept them quiet for 24 hours.
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