No in-principle approval yet for Bengaluru suburban rail

But other budgetary provisions could indirectly aid the project

No in-principle approval yet for Bengaluru suburban rail

Did the railway budget give a final push to the much-awaited suburban rail network for Bengaluru? No, it did not go beyond a token announcement and clearly lacked clarity on the project. This is the verdict of seasoned campaigners for a full-fledged commuter rail service for the City.

Sustained pressure from suburban rail activists, commuters of the existing skeletal service and Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s letters had kindled hopes that the project would find a place this year. But, as commuter rail analyst Sanjeev Dyamannavar pointed out, the project did not even get an in-principle approval.

Neither did the railway ministry give a firm financial commitment for the project. This could have activated the Special Purpose Vehicle created for the project with 50:50 cost-sharing by the ministry and the state government. The suburban rail network was conceptualised to link Bengaluru to Mandya, Kengeri, Tumakuru, Yeshwantpur, Whitefield and Byappanahalli, dramatically decongesting the city’s roads.

Allocating Rs 3 crore for the Byappanahalli terminal did show an intent to decongest the Bengaluru City station and develop alternative terminals on the lines of Yeswantpur. This could have been an indirect boost to the suburban rail project if the allocation was at least Rs 50 crore. A comprehensive upgrade of the Byappanahallistation would require Rs 115 crore. “With Rs 3 crore, you cannot even level the ground,” noted Dyamannavar.

City Development Minister KJ George had placed this terminal at the core of his plan to link the first phase of the suburban rail project with the Namma Metro network. Commuters from Whitefield were to switch over to the Metro at Byappanahalli.

But this demanded a hyper upgrade of the station. The marginal budgetary allocation, was however, a cause for cheer on one count: The ministry is willing to go ahead with the upgrade, even without a private partner.

The budgetary provision for automated signalling between the Cantonment and Whitefield stations and the proposal to eliminate all railway crossings by 2020 could indirectly aid the suburban rail project. Commuter trains at high frequencies and high speeds demand signal upgrades and zero crossings. Level-crossings, both manned and unmanned have been blamed for accidents and traffic congestions at many locations within the City.

In his budget speech, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu had talked about Bengaluru as a technology hub that warranted a comprehensive suburban system. But his statement, “We will partner with the state government in this endeavour” was not backed up with details. The wait for more clarity on the announcement has just begun.

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