Can Commuter Rail Take Pressure off Roads?
BENGALURU: When construction of the Metro project in Bengaluru commenced in June 2006, it was thought that the city would be able to deal with increasing congestion and provide a convenient alternative mode of transport for people. But works for Phase 1 itself started a good three years after the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation had submitted the Detailed Project Report.
As completion of Phase 1 gets delayed, there has been an explosion in the number of vehicles in the city, to around 50 lakh, bringing congestion to a peak. What is evident is that the Metro will not be able to single-handedly shift the majority of commuters off the roads.
Sanjeev Dyamannavar from the advocacy group Praja, which has been fighting fiercely for starting a Commuter Rail System (CRS), argues that a city should have all forms of transport — motorised and non-motorised — to have any serious impact on lessening the congestion on the roads.
“There are different kinds of demands of people travelling every day. So, we are not merely looking at Metro as an alternative, but also services like commuter rail, proper pavements, foot overbridges, taxi bays and metered taxis. The government is investing so heavily on Metro and the cost overruns are scary enough on Phase-1. Phase 2 is going to be even more expensive,” he says.
While agreeing that Railways is working on outdated infrastructure, Sanjeev says modernising is also very important to introduce new services. “Take Byappanahalli for instance. The proposal to turn it into a world class station came in 2007, but even to this day, except for the Railways spending `15 crore and creating some infrastructure, nothing has happened. The state government, in all these years, has given it a mere `1 lakh. But spending on railways is a less expensive proposition than the Metro. “Byappanahalli will require two years and `105 crore to turn into a world class station, but under Phase 2 of Metro, each station will cost at least `300 crore,” Sanjeev contends.
Urban transportation expert Lokesh Hebbani says international agencies like Japan International Cooperation Agency have shown an interest in funding the suburban rail project. “The state government needs to pursue this and put pressure on the Central government. Otherwise, there is no way for it go forward.
“With 3,000 new vehicles being registered every day, there is only so much you can do to avoid congestion. The government has to consider public transportation, which takes people off the roads. You cannot keep widening roads,” says Hebbani.
With connectivity to surrounding areas like Tumakuru, Kolar and Ramanagaram, it would encourage people to ditch their cars, he adds. “If stations can provide pay-and-park facilities, then people would readily shift to trains rather than bring their personal vehicles into the city,” he said.
Krishnaprasad, a retired Central government employee who is now involved in gathering consensus for the commuter rail project, says while both modes of transport are essential, there are certain advantages to commuter rail. “It is cheaper to execute and also inexpensive to the commuter as well. The kind of expenditure, expertise, technology required for Metro is not necessary for establishing a suburban train network,” he says.
Do Away With RITES, Say Officials
Supporters of CRS and Railway officials agree on one thing. That the state government should consider looking elsewhere if they want a proper study on feasibility of CRS.
A senior railway official said, “RITES is filled with retired railway officials aged around 70 who will not go to the field. The government can ask another agency to study the feasibility.”
In their reply to DULT on the RITES report, the Railways say that vital elements have not been brought out by RITES and a realistic assessment of multiple problems of land acquisition and demolition of built up area has not been presented.
“Similarly, critical analysis of dislocation of the existing services has not been presented,” it stated. They recommend that RITES should be impressed upon to prepare an in depth analysis supplementing in a cohesive manner on all aspects. The report further states, “At the same time, they may also explore possibility of adopting alternative economic cost effective solutions to bring down the cost of certain large scale investments so that viability of the project becomes better.”