Suburban rail diluted, delayed to benefit Namma Metro?

Five precious months have been lost due to Metro officials putting up objections to the suburban rail project. (DH File Photo)

The elimination of 24 suburban railway stations in the revised Detailed Project Report (DPR) prepared by RITES has left the city’s urban rail activists fuming. Was this done to benefit Namma Metro, thereby scuttling the creation of a wider public transport network for Bengaluru?

Five precious months have been lost due to Metro officials putting up objections to the suburban rail project. “We’ve been waiting for the past one year to get the final clearance. In every meeting, they are putting up spokes. Why are they even attending it?” wondered rail activist Sanjeev Dyamannavar.

The revision of the DPR itself was reportedly done to address fears that the suburban project would be a threat to Namma Metro’s commuter base. A letter from the Prime Minister’s Office had clearly sought a reduction in the number of suburban stations within the city.

The Railway Board had told K-RIDE, a nodal agency, that the suburban lines should not compete with the metro. But activists contend that this is clearly a misplaced argument, as there are lakhs of commuters in the city who would fill every possible efficiently-run public transport option.

It is learnt that the same fear of the metro losing commuters and revenue delayed a suburban rail link from the city to the Kempegowda International Airport. Although the airport operators had offered to build a halt station within its premises and introduce shuttle buses to its terminals, nothing moved for years.

A DH team had done a reality check, discovering that a train operated on an existing railway line can take airport commuters from Yeswanthpur to a KIA halt station in about half an hour. This line could be operationalised in three months, utilising about Rs 150-200 crore.

In contrast, an airport metro line is still in the works and could take at least 10 years to materialise, as Dyamannavar put it. “Let them first concentrate on building a metro line from Hebbal to KIA.” 

The RITES’ first DPR had 86 stations. Reducing this to 62 would make the project less commuter-friendly. “It will make fewer people change over to public transport,” noted N S Mukunda from the Citizens Action Forum.

The basic principle of any public transport mode is to have as many touchpoints for people as possible. “Less number of stations would mean the average distance between stations will increase. Why were the public, the end users, not consulted before taking these decisions?” he wondered.

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