City Railway Station: A nasty welcome by rail

For DH Point blank story of garbage dumped near railway line at Muthyalanagar in Bengaluru on Wednesday 24th October 2018. Photo by Janardhan B K

Board a train heading straight to the City Railway Station, any train, from any direction. Look out of the window, and hold your breath! Unfolding before you will be the city, in its now noxious avatar as a filthy den of muck, symbolized by tons of garbage strewn all across the tracks.

Is this the grand welcome you expect from a hi-tech hub with smart city ambitions? Is this what the Railways or the Bruhath Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) want to project to the outside world? But why, despite such glaring proof of a system gone wrong, the agencies concerned remain inert, passive, and visibly unconcerned?

Railways blames BBMP

Divisional Railway Manager, South Western Railways, R S Saxena acknowledges that it is a problem. But he refutes the charge that the Railways are inactive. “We had brought up this issue before the BBMP commissioner on many occasions, in December last year and once again this April. The issue is also about open defecation,” he points out.

Read more: Get garbage out of railway land, try social forestry

To stop the defecation problem, Saxena says, the Railways are even ready to build a few toilets provided the Palike ensures water and power supply. “But the BBMP is yet to get back to us,” he says. Meanwhile, the garbage dumping has continued unabated, a clear indication of misplaced priorities.

Encroachments

All along the tracks from Kengeri, from Cantonment Station, from Yeswanthpura and Yelahanka, leading to the City Station, the muck paints an ugly picture. The slums that have mushroomed have encroached upon the railway land, particularly along the Mysuru line. “The Slum Clearance Board has to address this problem,” says Saxena. But he admits there are encroachments elsewhere, some under litigation.

Is there a way out? Better inter-agency coordination, followed up with a robust monitoring mechanism is an obvious solution. But the experience so far offers no hope. Fencing of railway property, installation of CCTV cameras could be solutions, but they are expensive propositions.

No fencing

The railways have no concept of fencing its properties, unlike the Defence, notes urban mobility analyst, Sanjeev Dyamannavar. “They could try this option at least inside the city limits, considering the land requirement for future expansions,” he says.

He recalls how tenders were called years ago for a wall along the railway track from Yeshwanthpura to Hebbal to Banaswadi Stations. “Equipped with CCTVs, this could potentially avoid trespassing and garbage-dumping.”

But Saxena, who had taken up the post of DRM less than a year ago, is not aware of such a wall. “In any case, it is a pretty costly exercise. Fencing is taken up only when the train speeds exceed 130 kmph, like what you see on the Agra-Gwalior route. It then becomes an operational requirement,” he explains.

Land demands

The need for well-maintained, unobstructed, continuous land along the existing tracks is now in the spotlight more than ever for one critical reason: Quadrupling of tracks and laying of dedicated lines for a full-fledged suburban rail network.

Railway experts say any barter of railway land with BBMP or other agencies should not be at the cost of future infrastructural needs. This was why the railways turned down a proposal to asphalt a country road that passes through its land near the Hoodi Halt Station.

Stations too are in dire need of upgrade, implying optimal, smart use of available land. At the Bengaluru Cantonment Station, quadrupling would necessitate eight platforms, including four that allow throw passage of trains towards the City Station, and four more for termination of trains. But, as Dyamannavar points out, there is no planning in sight.

Future requirements

At the City Railway Metro Station, a water tank has been built too close to the railway track, a sureshot invitation for track expansion troubles in the future. At the Yeswanthpura Railway Station, prime land has been used to build railway quarters.

“Prime land should be earmarked for future expansion, left over land can be used to build multi-storeyed quarters and not individual bungalows,” notes Dyamannavar. The land demand will only grow in the future as stations will have to be redeveloped for quicker train movement, as the suburban network mandates.

Safety, an issue

Beyond concerns of encroachment, garbage and structures built without foresight on railway land, safety is also an issue. In the past, the Railway Protection Force (RPF) have had to deal with several complaints of stone-pelting on passing trains from the adjacent slums. This had endangered the safety of passengers and crew, before the RPF swung into action.

The proliferation of slums near Goripalya, Rudrappa Garden in close proximity to the railway track in Padarayanapura have only added to the railways' headache. In December 2013, the then DRM of the South Western Railways had articulated a plan to build a wall preventing public access to the track. Five years later, the plan remains on paper.

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