The infamous Mumbai local train has the ability to make people shudder merely on mention of its name. However, if you want to travel from one end of the city to the other (north/south), there's no faster way to go. From a tourist perspective, riding the Mumbai local also gives a unique glimpse into daily life in Mumbai. The local rail network is the lifeline for many commuters in Mumbai -- it transports an astonishing eight million commuters per day!
Unfortunately, everything you've heard about the Mumbai local is probably true! Trains can be extremely overcrowded, the doors never close and constantly have passengers hanging out of them, and people even travel sitting on the roof.
However, if you're feeling adventurous, don't miss taking an unforgettable trip on the Mumbai local. (If you need reassurance, my 60+ year old mother has done it and survived just fine!). Find out how to ride the Mumbai local train in this guide.
The Mumbai local has three lines -- Western, Central, and Harbour (covering the eastern part of the city, including Navi Mumbai). Each extends for over 100 kilometers.
- The Western Line, which terminates at Churchgate in south Mumbai, is regarded as the superior line because it goes through the better areas, has frequent services, and is the most reliable. However, it stops at many stations and can take quite a while to get anywhere.
- The Central Line, which runs from the Chhatrapathi Shivaji Termius (previously known as Victoria Terminus) in south Mumbai, has less stops but is more crowded.
- The Harbour Line, which also runs from Chhatrapathi Shivaji Termius, is in dire need of upgrading, and is generally avoidable.
When to Travel (and Not to Travel!)
If you don't want to get caught in the chaos that the Mumbai local is known for then travel during the day, from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m., to avoid the morning and evening rush hours.
If you're at Churchgate station at around 11.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m., you'll catch Mumbai's renowned dabbawalas in action. Sundays are also relatively quiet, and are good days to travel on the Western Line (the Central Line still draws the crowds). However, if you want a maximum experience in the "Maximum City" of Mumbai, rush hours are when all the crazy things that the Mumbai local is renowned for happen!
Where to Travel
If you're traveling on the Mumbai local as a tourist, Mahalaxmi and Bandra on the Western Line are two good destinations. Mahalaxmi because the astonishing dhobi ghat is located there (plus it's close to Haji Ali, another popular attraction in Mumbai), and Bandra because it's one of the hippest and happening suburbs in Mumbai with fabulous bargain shopping and nightlife. If you're heading to the airport, Andheri is the closest station (and you can take the new Mumbai Metro train from there).
There are ticket counters in rooms at the main entrance of each railway station. However, the lines are usually serpentine and slow moving. Alternatively, you can purchase a Smart Card, which will enable you to buy tickets from Automatic Ticket Vending Machines at the stations.
Point-to-point tickets, from one destination to another, and can be purchased at the originating station. Special Mumbai Local Train Tourist passes are available for one, three, and five days. They offer unlimited travel on all lines of the Mumbai local train network.
Mumbai local trains have separate carriages for women (known as the ladies compartment), and cancer and disabled passengers. There are also first class carriages but they aren't any more luxurious than the other carriages. The higher price of tickets merely keeps the majority of travelers out, therefore providing more space and order. There are a number of ladies compartments on each train. If you want to travel in one, just look for where the groups of women are standing on the platform. They will pull up there.
Types of Mumbai Local Trains
Mumbai local trains are either Fast (with few stops) or Slow (stopping at all or most stations). Each can be identified by "F" or "S" on the monitors at railway stations. Fast trains will stop at the stations listed in red on the Mumbai local train map.
The trains have either 12 or 9 carriages. 12 carriages are standard on the Western and Central lines, whereas many platforms on the Harbour line can only accommodate shorter 9 carriage trains.
Locating the Correct Train
Finding out which train will depart from which platform can be confusing. Trains are usually identified by their final destination. For south-bound trains, ask for trains going to CST (Chhatrapathi Shivaji Terminus) or Churchgate. Usually, the first letter or two of the destination will be displayed on the overhead monitors, and along side it either "F" or "S" for Fast or Slow train. For example, a train listed as BO F, will be a fast train terminating at Borivali on the Western Line. Also, as a general rule, north-bound trains will stop on Platform 1, and south bound trains on Platform 2.
Getting On and Off the Train
Forget your manners when getting on and off the Mumbai local! There are no such niceties as waiting for passengers to disembark before boarding, so it becomes a mad scramble to get on and off the train, as all doors are jammed with people trying to do both at the same time. It's a real case of survival of the fittest, and every man (or woman) for themselves! Women are often worse behaved than the men. Prepare to push, or be pushed, especially when getting on. As your stop approaches, move closer to the door to get off, and then let the crowd propel you forward.
- Keep away from the door, because people sometimes accidentally get pushed out.
- To avoid getting knocked down, keep out of the way of people in a hurry to catch a train.
- Put valuables in your bag and hold it close to your chest, because pick-pocketing is common.
- Don't catch any north-bound train heading to Virar (on the Western Line) during peak hours. It's just too crowded and aggressive!