A VVIP travels on the Churchgate-Dadar Suburban Train

Kristalina Georgieva, CEO, World Bank boards second-class compartment, seeks feedback on services

MUMBAI: World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva travelled in a Mumbai local train from Churchgate to Dadar. That, for those who are not familiar with Mumbai, is travelling in peak hours but in the opposite direction, against the crowd. Which means the trains are almost empty. During her first official visit to India, Georgevia opted to see the operations of the Bank-supported Suburban Rail System in Mumbai and had availed the opportunity to see how the operations of the World Bank-supported suburban rail system – which carries about eight million commuters each day – is serving a fast growing and urbanising India.

“India is our biggest middle income client. Its economic growth influences global growth. Its achievements in health and education contribute to the world achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. I am keen to learn more as India is a laboratory for the world to learn about what works in development and to find new ways to collaborate,” Georgieva said.

At 9:50 on Tuesday morning, Churchgate station appeared like any other weekday: quiet and fairly empty, till a group of photographers descended on the Slow local platform. There was a celebrity in their midst, a rather unusual traveller to the suburbs: World Bank CEO, Kristalina Georgieva, who had arrived to board the train to Dadar. Once she entered the second class ladies’ compartment, journalists, regular commuters, women police officers and Western Railway employees followed suit. They were and invited to speak to Ms. Georgieva, who was accompanied by World Bank India officials. She asked them a simple question: “What would you like to improve (about the Railways)?” The query didn’t take the commuters much effort to answer: increased safety, and more comfortable journeys. “I spend nearly one hour on the train every day,” said Reshma Singh (30). “By now I have gathered a group of my friends to travel with me every day, but the journey is still tiring, because of the open doors, the crowded compartments, and the length of the journey.”

In Mumbai on a two-day India visit, Ms. Georgieva sought to gain this information as feedback for the World Bank’s involvement with the Mumbai transport system. The World Bank is a financial contributor to the Mumbai Urban Transport Project, which has recently completed its second phase. This phase has looked to expand Mumbai’s suburban railway corridors, increase the size and frequency of the trains, reduce trespassing to increase passenger safety, improve trains’ punctuality, and enhance the security and comfort of train journeys.

The women police officers accompanying Ms. Georgieva also sat down to discuss their desire for increased safety on the trains. Ms. Singh was also one of the “regular travellers” World Bank India officials invited to sit with Ms. Georgieva and share their feedback with; the media, meanwhile, was unstoppable. At each station, photographers kept clicking through the windows. Western Railway employees then sat down with Ms. Georgieva to talk about their jobs; when they mentioned how they loved what they were doing, Ms. Georgieva said it was great to see women employees of the Railways, and that there need to be more. Journalists observing from the sidelines were told not to ask questions, and to give answers instead. Unanimously, safety and comfort were the top replies.

“I feel privileged that World Bank supports the Mumbai commuter rail,” Ms. Georgieva said. “From my understanding, speaking to women on the train today, the leadership wants an enjoyable experience, women have positive words to say, and safety is a big concern.” She emphasised that, going forward, safety measures would be increased with cameras, lighting, and an increased police presence.

Ms. Georgieva, demonstrating the intended effect of decongesting Mumbai’s suburban railways, said an easier travelling experience would ensure that more women could work in the railway stations.

“The leadership here at the station today has all talked about wanting an enjoyable experience. I would like to see more women working, which means improving not just the efficiency of the trains but also the quality, dignity of life and enjoyment of railway travel,” she said.

Georgieva, who reached Mumbai on Monday night, is also scheduled to meet with Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and RBI Governor Urjit Patel.