Campaign for suburban rail intensifies with hunger strike

Campaign for suburban rail intensifies with hunger strike

In a desperate push to get the suburban rail project for Bengaluru included in the upcoming railway budget, a multipronged campaign is set to break fresh ground this weekend.

If bombarding the chief minister with emails pushed him to draft his own letter to the Centre recently, a hunger strike organised this Sunday by the Bengaluru Suburban Train Passengers Association is designed to intensify the struggle.

Spearheaded by daily users of the existing skeletal network of trains, the daylong strike near the Whitefield railway station has a clear objective: To press for the implementation of the RITES report that strongly recommended a full-fledged commuter rail for Bengaluru.

Association secretary Mahesh M explained it in practical terms: “There are lakhs of people dependent on the trains. I take three and half hours by BMTC bus commuting from Vijayanagar to my office in Whitefield. By train, I take barely 35 minutes from the City railway station to Whitefield. I see at least 25,000 people cramming into available trains to cover that distance. Why not introduce more suburban trains and bring in a system?”

His logic, echoed by suburban rail activists for years, was clear: When Rs 50,000 crore is being spent on Namma Metro, why is not even one per cent of it allotted to the railways?

Urban commute analyst Sanjeev Dyamannavar posed a related query: Why have no funds been allotted in the last eight years to upgrade and decongest the Bengaluru City and Yeswantpur terminals and the Baiyappanahalli railway station?

The suburban rail project could get a hyperboost by upgrading Baiyappanahalli as a terminal since it had enough land.

But as Dyamannavar pointed out, there has been no action at all in years. He explained: “There is lack of interest by the State government. They need to look at it from a long-term perspective. The budget might give the in-principle approval for the suburban project, but that will not help.

The Railway Board should sit with the government officials and the DRM to understand the issues.”

Shortcuts impractical
City Development Minister K J George had recently mooted a proposal to develop a suburban rail system linking it to the Metro network. The first phase of this system, he had informed, would link Tumakuru with Yeshwantpur, Whitefield with Baiyappanahalli and Mandya with Kengeri. But urban rail experts saw this as impractical since the stations mentioned posed huge practical issues as terminals. Clearly, escape routes and shortcuts cannot address the City’s urban commute woes.

Veteran commuter rail campaigner, Sathinder Pal Chopra said to start with a skeletal suburban system could be operated by increasing the existing 32 train services to 68 trains. This could be achieved with the current infrastructure, provided the signalling systems were upgraded.
DH News Service

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