BETTER services are in prospect for the long-suffering commuters of Mumbai, 4600 of whom typically cram themselves into and onto nine-car trains during the 3h long morning peak. A programme to increase capacity was prepared in December 1994, and in October 1996 the Indian and Maharashtra state governments gave their consent in principle for a single body to be set up to oversee the modernisation and development of the commuter network.

Some improvements were made (RG 12.96 p831), but the main works for what was known as Phase II of the Mumbai Urban Transport Project depended on a package of funding from the World Bank. Unfortunately, the Union government, the state of Maharashtra and Indian Railways could not agree terms, and although a joint venture called Mumbai Rail Vikas Corp was registered as an IR subsidiary, little progress was made as MRVC had no formal status.

Only when the World Bank threatened last November to withdraw its offer of funding unless MRVC was properly established did the scheme move forward. The Union cabinet finally approved MRVC and gave it legal status on January 13. At the heart of the deal is an agreement for property owned by IR in Mumbai to be developed, opening up a fresh source of funding.

It is proposed to spend around Rs50bn over the next six years, with Rs12·5bn earmarked for extra tracks, including quadrupling from Kurla to Thane, and from Borivali to Virar. A fifth track is to be laid between Kurla and Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus, with work due to start next month. Elsewhere, tracks will be relaid to permit higher speeds. Construction of the east-west link between Bandra and Kurla will start next September at a cost of nearly Rs9·2bn, and both these stations will be rebuilt. Passengers will also benefit from 100 new nine-car EMU rakes.

Many eyes will be watching to see how MRVC handles the job. Waiting in the wings are 17 other cities that would like similar joint ventures to deliver improvements - the hopes of millions of Indian commuters rest on MRVC’s success.