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Delhi Opens First Metro Line - 2003-01-10

The first phase of a new rapid transit rail system has opened in the Indian capital, raising hopes of easing the city's chronic traffic snarls and cutting down pollution. It's become one of the city's star attractions, with tens of thousands of people turning up daily for their first glimpse of a modern transportation system.

The metro track in Delhi runs over a short stretch of about eight kilometers, connecting an eastern suburb with the interstate bus terminal in the north of the city.

Since it opened two weeks ago, it's been attracting a steady stream of visitors from all corners of the sprawling metropolis. Delhi is only the second Indian city, after Calcutta, to have a metro and it's residents are excited.

A group of students stands at a platform, craning their necks to catch a glimpse of the train as it streams in. They say they have come to see what a state of the art transportation system is all about.

Voice 1: "Excitement, to sit in the metro rail, first time."

Voice 2: "I have come today for enjoying."

Voice 3: "It is something new, we see it in movies, Hollywood, so we are enjoying it now in Delhi, that's it."

Voice 4: "Just to see metro and to enjoy, to travel in metro."

There was near chaos on Christmas Day, when the metro first opened to the public. Authorities were taken aback by the huge crowds, and rushed to put in advertisements asking people to go slow. Anuj Dayal, chief spokesman of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation says the crowds have settled down. "The first day we got 10 times the number of people we were expecting," he said. "After that things are very much under control, we are getting something between 50,000 to one lakh [100,000] people who travel on the metro everyday. Most of them are joyriders, because it is something new for Delhi and for India, so everybody wants to see how a modern metro system looks like."

The public enthusiasm is not surprising. Metro authorities have billed the system "a dream come true".

It is indeed a stark contrast to Delhi's overcrowded roads where four million vehicles jostle for space, creating noise, traffic jams, and pollution. The current Metro track is elevated, running smoothly above the daily grind of cars, buses and motorized rickshaws.

The chaotic traffic is not the city's only problem. Delhi's public transport system is also highly unreliable, consisting of an inadequate fleet of buses, three wheeler rickshaws and expensive taxis.

So far, only a fraction of Delhi's public is able to use the metro for their daily commute. But those who are using the system regularly, say their traveling lives have improved dramatically.

Shanta Kaur is a teacher living close to one of the Metro stations. She says for her, the frustrating wait for a bus, or a ride on a rickety motorized rickshaw is all in the past. And the time spent traveling on crowded roads has been cut down significantly. "We are feeling we are having a luxury travel," said Shanta Kaur. "Yeah, journey time, [is less] it's not polluting."

Metro authorities say Delhi's rapid transit system is world-class - completely computerized, with escalators, sleek new trains, air conditioned cars, and an automatic fare collection system. Mr. Dayal says people are quickly getting accustomed to the modern facilities. "We were quite worried about people using the escalators, being able to get into the automatic doors, but they've adapted reasonably well," he said.

Indeed, those coming out of the metro trains after their first ride are satisfied customers, giving the thumbs up to the Metro, and hoping the train track will some day run close to their neighborhood.

Businessman Vinod Misra has come with his nephew, who is on a visit to Delhi from the neighboring state of Rajasthan. Mr. Misra says it's a great transport system that will really help the public. He says he felt very proud sitting in the train, and hopes he can use it regularly some day.

Over the next three years, the metro will be steadily expanded to run over 60 kilometers of underground and elevated tracks through some of the city's most crowded areas. It will be able to carry up to two million commuters everyday, eliminating the need for nearly 2,500 buses, and thousands of cars. In a city that adds nearly 100,000 private vehicles every year, the metro is expected to ease the burden on road traffic, and also cut pollution levels.