Metro Railway enjoyed its first cool ride on Thursday, two years after Mission AC rakes was greenlighted, but most underground regulars will have to wait well beyond Puja for a taste of comfort.
The noise and the huddle under fans were missing for the handful who boarded the AC train — one of the two air-conditioned rakes of Metro Railway procured from the Integral Coach Factory at Chennai — on a trial run flagged off by Mamata Banerjee from New Garia on Thursday evening. And no one was complaining.
The trial train went from New Garia to Dum Dum but when the limited commercial run begins on Friday, it will travel only the 8.7km stretch between New Garia and Tollygunge stations.
The railway minister on Thursday inaugurated the 2.8km stretch from Kavi Nazrul (Garia Bazaar) to Kavi Subhash (New Garia) — named after poet Subhash Mukhopadhyay — completing the extension of Metro Railway beyond Tollygunge.
Metro will run the entire stretch from Dum Dum to New Garia from Friday. But the new AC rakes are being spared the burden of the 25.1km ride because the authorities are apprehensive about how they cope with rush-hour Calcutta.
“The new trains will run five times daily at non-peak hours between New Garia and Tollygunge stations for a month. They will later operate on the whole stretch till Dum Dum,” said Mamata.
Till the new trains get the clearance for a full run, passengers who board the cool-blue coaches from New Garia will have to get down at Tollygunge and wait for the next train with sweaty old coaches and rickety doors to arrive.
But for many waiting for just another Metro train it was an “unbelievable” experience when a snazzy new one rolled in. Mamata flagged off the first AC train at 5.15pm on Thursday from New Garia, promising commuters a dream ride.
“This is absolutely unbelievable. This is an international experience. I was prepared for another rickety ride in a suffocating coach but this new AC rake came along. This is a great Puja gift,” said Swapna Bhattacharya, 24, a resident of Subhashgram, on the southern fringes of Calcutta.
The large windows with clean glass panes, the handle bars with multiple prongs, the matted floor, the digital display boards flashing the names of stations made Calcutta’s beloved Metro special again.
“It’s obvious that a lot of thought has gone into the interiors,” said Surangana Dey, 17, a student of Class XII, who found it easier to hold on to the overhead handles hanging at an easy height.
“There are glass partitions at the seat-ends to ensure people don’t use them as seats or armrests,” said the Patuli resident. She was also excited about the “noiseless” journey. “Our conversations used to get drowned by the noise earlier,” she said softly.
But many of Surangana’s friends and most Calcuttans will miss the cool coaches during Puja. “I had made up my mind to take the Metro when I go pandal-hopping with my family just because of the AC trains. We were so excited when we were told they would start running from Mahalaya,” said Dum Dum resident Tarun Kanti Sarkar.
At the flagging-off, Mamata alleged that “someone had done some sabotage” because of which there was a delay in commissioning the new rakes. She did not elaborate.
Metro had reported some of the glitches in the new rakes, including problems with the brakes.
Even on Thursday, there was a delay of a few minutes in the first ride of the inaugural train, but not because of a snag. It was held up because the minister was busy distributing green flags among her party colleagues on the stage.
A few hours later, Metro services were disrupted for 15 minutes, from 8.40pm to 8.55pm, between Tollygunge and Garia Bazaar because of a signal failure.