Thursday, Apr. 23, 2009

Train Spotting

Best Place to See a Slice of Life
New Delhi

Under budget and ahead of schedule, the Delhi Metro symbolizes what Indian infrastructure projects can be. Working round-the-clock and without bringing Delhi's chaotic traffic to a halt, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) is creating a giant network that already transports 650,000 people every day and is punctual 99.5% of the time. Its technology is cutting-edge.

But what's more interesting is how it is changing society. Many conservative Muslim women, some in hijabs, who live in the Delhi area of Chandni Chowk, for example, are venturing outside their neighborhoods for the first time. Buses are notoriously unsafe for women and disgracefully accident-prone. The Metro, by contrast, is neither.

For commuters used to rickshaws and rickety buses, the Metro is a brush with the First World, and also an exceptional leveler. On any given journey, you'll see domestic helpers and rich housewives, lowly clerks and corporate executives. The Metro even attracted simian travelers until the DMRC hired langurs — black-faced monkeys with long tails — to scare away other species. They'd better hope that none of New Delhi's sacred, stray cattle find their way into a carriage.