Saturday, May 15, 2010

In India, Hitching Hopes on a Subway

 The trains arrive with a whisper. The doors slide open and a puff of refrigerated air confronts the city’s summertime miasma. A bell dings, the doors close and the train whisks its passengers to the next stop.

This sequence of events might seem utterly ordinary on train platforms in Berlin or Bangkok, Stockholm or Singapore. But here in the sweaty heart of India’s northernmost megacity, the runaway success of the city’s almost complete subway system, known as the Metro, is a feat bordering on miraculous, and it offers new hope that India’s perpetually decrepit urban infrastructure can be dragged into the 21st century.

The Delhi Metro manages to defy just about every stereotype of urban India. It is scrupulously clean, impeccably maintained and almost unfailingly punctual. Its cars are the latest models, complete with air-conditioning and even power outlets to let commuters charge their mobile phones and laptops. Its signaling and other safety technology is first rate, and the system is among the best in the world, urban transport experts say. Despite cheap fares, less than 20 cents for the shortest ride and about 67 cents for the longest, the system manages to turn an operating profit.

The Delhi Metro is perhaps the most ambitious urban infrastructure project since India won its independence, and its progress has been closely watched in a country facing a looming urban disaster. Unlike China and other rapidly growing developing countries, India remains predominantly rural.

A study published last month by the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that by 2030, 590 million Indians would live in cities and 70 percent of India’s new jobs would be in cities. India needs $1.2 trillion in infrastructure to accommodate these new arrivals, the report concluded, including 4,600 miles of railways and subways, and real estate equivalent to the entire city of Chicago every year.

From Lydia Polgreen's report in The New York Times
To read the full report click here.

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