Railway fans are in for a treat this week as part of the BBC India Season, Dan Snow, Anita Rani and Robert Llewellyn are in Mumbai exploring the world’s busiest railway. From their base at the historic Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus they reveal the science, systems and staff responsible for keeping this supersized transport system running to schedule.
Being shown on BBC Two for four consecutive nights from Monday, in the first episode, Dan, Anita and Robert try commuting Mumbai-style, tackling what is known as ‘super dense crush load’ on the world’s busiest commuter trains. With as many as 14 people packed into a square metre, these trains are more than twice as packed as the most crowded European trains. Passengers hang from the sides of trains and cross the tracks, so they’re in for quite a ride.
2,300km north east of Mumbai, John Sergeant is in the foothills of the Himalayas, to ride Darjeeling’s steam powered hill railway. He reminisces about a more romantic age of rail travel and reveals the historical connection between tea and trains.
On Tuesday, Anita joins passengers making the 1,970 km journey from Mumbai to Kolkata, to discover who’s travelling, what they pay for their tickets and what conditions are like on board. She discovers how crucial these services are for India’s 400 million economic migrants, who commute across the country to find work.
With trains measuring more than half a kilometre in length and the station team having just six hours to service trains after every journey, Robert joins them to watch the gargantuan task of making sure they’re ready before heading out again on their next trip.
Dan gets his hands dirty with the behind-the-scenes support teams, who process more than 25,000 dirty sheets a day and ensure that everyone on board is fed and watered.
On Wednesday, Robert visits a city-sized repair facility, where every 18 months the train carriages are given their version of an MOT. Robert tries his hand at repairing seats and discovers that the carriages are still painted by hand.
With a salary around seven times the national average, a passenger train driver is a prestigious job in India. The cameras are on board with one of the drivers – known as motormen – and are given privileged access to the lounge where drivers prepare to go on shift.
Anita heads onto the roads of Mumbai to see if commuting by road is any easier than by rail, while John Sergeant visits two rural stations that still operate historical systems for train control and discovers how a silver ball can keep passengers safe.
Finally, on Thursday, things take a darker turn. Nine people a day die on Mumbai’s railway lines and Anita tackles the railway’s head of safety on the measures they’re taking to reduce this fatality rate. She also heads out with the ‘gangmen’ – teams of repair workers responsible for re-laying the track.
Dan meets two eye witnesses to 2008’s terror attacks that claimed the lives of 52 people at CST and considers the changes made at the station since those events. He also heads out to Mumbai’s newly built Metro to experience what the future could hold for Mumbai’s 5.5 million rail commuters. This new line cost close to half a billion pounds to build and connects Mumbai’s eastern and western suburbs.
The station’s managers discuss their plans for the future and how they hope to cope with a 50 percent increase in passenger numbers, while two of Mumbai’s commuters share their experiences and tell us how crucial the railway is to this city.
Robert fulfils a childhood dream and becomes a train driver for a day and Anita tries her hand at station announcing.