The Insider’s Guide to Mumbai series is loaded with information to help you visit and explore this expansive and vibrant city like a local. After living as an expat for so many years, I found that to really get to know a city quickly you need to stay outside of the tourist zones and hang out and eat where the locals do. You will never get a fully local experience from just a visit, but this guide series will help you see a bit of the soul that runs deep beneath this eclectic metropolis.
City Lifeline: The Mumbai Local Train
Mumbai has one of the best suburban electric train travel systems in India. With atrocious traffic all times of the day, trains are the best option for commuting in Mumbai and covering long distances in a short amount of time. The trains run frequently from approximately 3:30 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. on three lines: Western, Harbour and Central. Transport for Mumbai has a great map and a time table for all of the trains on these lines.
Trains in India are unique in that they have separate compartments for men and women as well as first and second classes. For new riders, it’s recommend to travel in first class as the second-class compartments are typically so crowded you will find it difficult to breath! Men’s first class compartments have red/yellow stripes and women’s first class typically have blue/yellow stripes.
If you do not see markings for women’s first class anywhere on the platform, then stand near the men’s first class as there is usually a women’s compartment close by. Also, you can look along the platform for a group of women, or always ask someone. If you are traveling in a group of men and women, the best option is to all ride together in the men’s first class carriage.
If for some reason you cannot find the first class carriage and the train is getting ready to pull away, you can jump on any carriage (except Ladies only unless you are ladies only) and try again at the next stop.
It is also important to familiarize yourself with the signs at the stations. The sign in the photo above says that the train is going to Churchgate station (C), the current time is 1:17pm, this is a Fast train (F) and the train is expected in 1 minute. The first letter (or two) tell riders what the final destination for this train will be, whether it is a fast or slow train (stops at all stops) and when it is expected. At smaller stations the signboard might only display “ST 01:20”. This would mean that the destination of the train is Victoria Terminus Station (Mumbai CST) and it will ARRIVE at the station you are at, at 1:20 p.m.
Local trains stop for a very short amount of time, so be prepared in advance of your stop. There are no announcements either, so check out the order of the train stops to get an idea what stop is before your station. You will see people begin lining up on the side of the carriage where the next stop will be. If not, ask someone. In busy time periods, there will be a mad dash of people trying to get on at the same time as people trying to get off, so its important that you are ready to squeeze your way off before the train departs!
Here’s a short hyperlapse video of people getting on/off a men’s first class carriage in non-peak hours.
Have fun riding the trains in Mumbai!