The Kolkata Metro was the first underground railway system in India, opening in 1984. It has just one line, running from Dum Dum in the north to Tollygunge in the south, but this is expected to be extended beyond Tollygunge by some time around 2010, and a new east-to-west line, connecting to Howrah - the city's main national rail station - has been approved by the central government.

We finally get to ride on it when we get a day to ourselves to be tourists. As we wait in a longish but extremely efficient line to buy amazingly cheap tickets (6 rupees to get half-way across town - that's less than 8 pence), I read the regulations prominently posted on a pillar and I am disturbed to note that the authorities have felt the need to specifically prohibit the carrying of dead bodies on the underground system.

Our train arrives soon after we get there, though it takes a while to leave, ours being the first stop on the line. The train is noticeably wider and taller than one on London's Tube (and hence much bigger than one on the Glasgow Metro), with much less curved walls, making it possible even for someone my height to stand upright by the doors. I have to do this on our return journey during the afternoon rush hour, and find it means that even when the train packs a lot more people than one of London's rush-hour Tube trains, it is far more comfortable to stand up in.

What is more, the whole system has air conditioning and the train's windows stay open, making it amazingly - embarrassingly - much cooler than the Tube during Britain's relatively feeble Summer. All in all the ride is vastly more comfortable than the average crowded Tube ride, the only down-side on the comfort front being that rather than individual cushioned seats, each side of the train has a sort of bench running down it. We immediately sit down when we first board a train, and by the time it pulls out it already seems unfeasibly packed. It is not uncomfortable, though, and I can appreciate the efficiency advantage.

The trains and to a lesser extent the stations both tend towards the grey, and the lighting has that very faintly blueish, curiously colour-draining quality which seems oddly characteristic of public interiors in Kolkata. I don't know if the fluorescent lighting uses a different gas here, or if it's all the dust, or just the contrast with a city which is otherwise so colourful, but it seems quite striking to me - especially when I think of the 70s-tinted orangey-yellow light of Glasgow's underground trains. Many of the stations have attractive decorations along the platforms, so for instance the two stations named after Bengal's national poet Rabinbdranath Tagore feature his illustrations and poems along their walls. At our destination, Park Street, there is a little museum display at the side of the platform, and the tunnels leading us to the surface are adorned with square spirals every few feet.

As we leave the train in streams of dozens, a cheerful tune starts to play, and it seems as if the whole thing has been carefully choreographed like a scene from a transport montage, but it turns out it's an advert playing on one of the televisions dotted along the platform. I'm intrigued, because I've never seen TVs on a train system...

A Raj Kumar Exhibition- | -Viral fever

Spanning a total distance of 16.45 Kms covering the North-South axis the Kolkata Metro Railway is India's first and Asia's fifth underground railway system.

Though the idea was conceived in 1949 by the then Chief Minister of West Bengal Dr. B. C. Roy and the Central Government sanction came through in 1972 it wasn't until a good 23 years later that the project was completed. Built in phases, services for the entire stretch from Dum Dum to Tollygunge was started in September 27, 1995. I remember being absolutely enthralled whenever we took the short ride from Esplanade to Maidan to get to Victoria Memorial when out on family outings.

The metro is the most efficient and quickest way to get around the city of Kolkata with a total of 17 stations placed strategically across the city each about a kilometer apart. Not to mention dirt-cheap - a one-way ride from Tollygunge to Dum Dum costs 8 Rs(about 20cents in USD). At every station the route is split up into a maximum of three possible zones (Zone I, II, III). The tickets are priced based on the destination at a rate of Rs.4, 6, 8 for the respective zones. Multi Ride tickets are also available for daily commuters with special discount schemes. The interval between two trains fluctuates depending on the time of the day going to a low of 8 mins during rush-hour and between 10-15 minutes at other times.

Each train has 8 coaches attached to it with the official site claiming a seating capacity of 48 and standing room for 278 people per coach(1). As mentioned by Oolong in his post above each coach has a sort of bench running alongside it for seating purposes. The following is a rough layout of each coach :

          
  --. .--00------00------00-------00--. .--
  xx| |xx  xxxxxx  xxxxxx  xxxxxxx  xx| |xx
    | |             (W)               | |
    ===                               ===
    | |              (W)              | |
  xx| |xx  xxxxxx  xxxxxx  xxxxxxx  xx| |xx
  --. .--00------00------00-------00--. .--

Legend : 
00  - Sliding doors
x   - Passenger seat (for 1)
=   - Coach connector
(W) - Reserved for women
The environment on the platforms and in the trains is controlled by "forced ventilation with washed and cooled air". This basically means that if you stick close enough to a pillar on the stations you have a remote chance of getting all that sticky sweat off your skin which Kolkata with its ginormous humidity levels is infamous for. Once in the metro, open windows and humongous fans in the ceiling ensure that the compartment never gets too stuffy.

The entire system is run on electricity with a 750 Volts DC. supply on the third rail. This apparently has some interesting repercussions with a total number of 105 suicides since services began. To try and prevent any such further attempts and for security purposes CCTVs line every station and passengers are prohibited from crossing a white line at the edge of the platform before the train arrives. Furthermore, idling or sitting on the steps in the platform premises has been barred and security is alerted if anyone in particular lurks around a platform for too long.

Currently work is underway for an extension to the existing route to further cover the southern fringes of the city (Tollygunge to Garia) and a East-West connector is also being planned with the route cutting across the Hooghly river.

The current list of stations(2) from North to South are :


(1) www.kolmetro.com - Official page of Kolkata Metro (currently down, check the Google caches if you need something).
(2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calcutta_Metro - Kolkata Metro entry in Wikipedia

As an afterthought, since the FIFA World Cup in 2002 all the stations have a half dozen or so television sets broadcasting a channel specially made for the Metro - Incoda TV. Its repertoire includes a medley of Hollywood/Bollywood flicks, local news, sports specials and an odd music video every now and then.

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