Suburban rail network: Gaping gaps in planning

Suburban rail network:  Gaping gaps in planning

If the Railways needed clinching proof of Bengaluru’s critical requirement for a commuter rail network, there was one everyday: Jam-packed suburban trains unloading thousands of people into the City. Yet, it chose to blame “saturated existing lines” for not creating a dedicated network or to even add more passenger trains to boost the existing skeletal service.

Three years ago, a seasoned rail transport observer, Satyendra Chopra, had sought to know why 15 to 20 pairs of passenger trains couldn’t be added exclusively for Bengaluru’s daily requirements. The South Western Railways’ Hubballi-based transportation department had replied that despite doubling the Bengaluru-Tumakuru, Bengaluru-Whitefield and Bengaluru-Channapatna tracks, the lines were saturated.

The department had contended that the line capacity utilisation of the three lines ranged between 115 to 151 per cent. Regular long-distance trains, short specials, light engines and freight trains operated in these sections. The message was clear: Commuter service cannot take off unless separate, dedicated suburban tracks were put in place.

Yet, 39 new trains were introduced in the same sections, five in July 2011, eight the next year, 12 in 2013 and 15 in 2014. Only a few of these trains were remotely linked to suburban service.

Underutilised services
Currently, the City’s skeletal suburban service is run on four DEMU (Diesel Electrical Multiple Unit) and two MEMU (Main Electrical Multiple Unit) rakes. All of these trains are under-utilised, as Chopra said in a letter addressed to D V Sadananda Gowda, who was till recently the Railway minister. “Most of these services cover over 70 kms. The number of trips are less and the occupancy levels drop as one moves away from the City centre.”
On all days except Sundays, the DEMU and MEMU rakes provide 32 services. But these mostly serve the Kolar section of Bengaluru division. To overcome these drawbacks, Chopra had suggested restructuring the current schedules to increase the suburban services to 74, thus benefiting an estimated three lakh commuters around the City. “The additional services will not hamper services of other trains as the new ones will not stop at the Bengaluru City and Yesvanthpura station for more than five minutes.”

Rail network within the City could have improved capacity for suburban services if the track doubling exercise was planned better. One glaring instance is the ongoing doubling of the 13-km line from Yelahanka to Chennasandra. Extension of this line by a mere 3.5 km could have linked it to Baiyappanahalli and to the Kolar line, thereafter.

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