One million queue for a ticket to ride on Delhi's new metro

By Phil Reeves
Thursday 26 December 2002 01:00

At 6am yesterday, the first commuters piled into shining South Korean-built carriages as the Delhi metro opened for custom. By the end of the day, a million people had crowded into the system, built in hope of reducing the capital's deadly pollution.

The Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, led the ceremony on Tuesday to inaugurate a network which, when completed, will be one of the largest engineering projects in the city designed by Edwin Lutyens since the capital was finished 73 years ago.

As yet, people can only travel five miles from east to west, stopping at six stations and passing over the grubby Yamura river. But by late 2005 the system is expected to comprise more than 25 miles. Plans have been drawn up to expand it over the next few decades to more than 150 miles, about a sixth of which is to be underground.

Passengers pay at most seven rupees (9p) for a ride, which is far less than the fee demanded by one of its chief motorised rivals, the auto-rickshaw, whose drivers are notorious for overcharging.

The opening of the initial overground part of the Metro's first stage comes only a few days after a giant boring machine completed the first tunnel beneath Connaught Place, the city's equivalent of Piccadilly Circus.

The occasion has generated great excitement, mixed with considerable surprise that, unlike so much else in India, it is on schedule.

India's English-language newspapers have been eagerly running countdowns to the opening. The Metro has generated a mound of articles about feuding in government circles over who should take credit, last-minute safety concerns, and the intricate gadgetry involved.

But the $6bn (£3.8bn) Metro – most of which is funded by a loan from Japan – is about larger issues. Over the past 50 years, Delhi's population has risen from less than a million to 14 million. The Indian government estimates that it will reach 23 million by 2021 – growth with which the city will barely be able to cope.

The transport system is highly congested and dangerous. City officials say that, on average, five people are killed every day on the roads, which are a seething throng of lorries, buses, rickshaws, cars, bicycles and cattle, with the odd elephant and monkey.

* Armed robbers attacked a Christmas church service in eastern India, injuring at least six people, including a priest, police said yesterday. About 20 people armed with daggers, home-made pistols and crude bombs attacked the church in Maliapota, West Bengal, where hundreds were gathered for Midnight Mass.

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