Waiting for a train

Commuter rail system, proposed in the Railway Budget 2011, may not be a reality soon due to the sluggish moves of the implementing agencies

Commuter Rail System (CRS) should have been implemented in Bangalore before any other mode of mass transport. Ridership on the CRS in Mumbai is almost 70 lakh a day. In Kolkata, nearly two lakh people travel by it every day. Chennai has 90,000 commuters, and the number is slightly less in Delhi. Around 1.6 lakh passengers take CRS in Hyderabad.

While much emphasis is being laid on new age Metro lines and a rather superfluous High Speed Rail Link (HSRL), none of these will help in further development of the City, as it cannot transport labour force or goods from peripheral areas outside Bangalore.

CRS, popularly known as suburban rail, will not only facilitate development of Bangalore, but also the neighbouring areas such as Ramanagara, Tumkur, Chikkaballapur, Doddaballapur and Bangarpet. All these locations lie within a radius of 50-90 kilometre, with many important catchments in between.

CRS will operate mostly on the existing railway lines, thus eliminating the problems facing infrastructure projects in the City like acquisition of land and money spent on creation of new infrastructure. It will also not hinder smooth flow of vehicles.

For example, nearly 9,000 people from Tumkur travel to and fro Bangalore every day. These constitute daily wage workers, government officials and software employees. G S Basavaraj, Member of Parliament from Tumkur, feels that State government needs to put more pressure on the Centre if it wishes to make CRS a reality. “We want the State to allocate funds for the project in this year’s budget. The project had already been mentioned in the previous budgets, but no deadlines were set. The Railway Budget should also set aside money for CRS in Karnataka,” said Basavaraj.

He said along with him, seven other MPs from surrounding districts, were pushing for CRS. “The fare won’t be more than Rs 15 from Tumkur to Bangalore on the CRS and on an average 1,000 people can travel per trip and reach Bangalore City within 90 minutes,” he said.

Basavaraj and other MPs plan to submit a proposal within weeks urging Chief Minister Sadananda Gowda to ensure CRS figures in this year’s budget.

Apart from MLAs and MPs, there are several bodies, both government and non-government, which have been working on CRS for the past few years. An online social networking site ‘Praja’ started a campaign giving CRS a brand image and calling it ‘Namma Railu’.

The idea of ‘Namma Railu’ is to publicise CRS as a concept among middle and upper class commuters and to inform other categories of people of the benefits of using CRS.  The State government-commissioned Comprehensive Traffic and Transportation Plan (CTTP) 2007 not only made CRS mandatory for Bangalore, but also recommended expanding the existing railway network. The problems before CRS are jurisdictional and administrative and to some extent political, but primarily, it is about the government’s will.

The State budget for 2011-2012 in its 55th point supported CRS. Former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa’s speech read: “The government has sought the permission of the Ministry of Railways for undertaking commuter rail service from Bangalore to Devanahalli, Anekal, Malur, Ramanagara, Nelamangala and beyond, so that people living on the outskirts of Bangalore would be able to access the Central Business District of Bangalore within a short time.”

The Railway Budget of 2011 presented by then minister Mamata Banerjee, in the 83rd point, suggests setting up CRS along the lines of Mumbai Rail Vikas Corporation in congested urban areas in other states.  The problem then is that the Indian Railways, the South Western Railways and the departments under the Government of Karnataka need to work together to make CRS a reality. Funds for the project are also on a sharing basis between the Centre and the State, which makes the task even more difficult.

But the government seems to be ever ready to implement the High Speed Rail Link (HSRL). The Rs 6,700-crore project will choke Bangalore for months, besides causing large-scale pollution and furtherinconveniences, given that the Metro work is still on.

At the end of it all, the 35-km rail link will help nobody but those few passengers commuting to and from Bengaluru International Airport. The HSRL connecting MG Road to BIA will only have Hebbal and Yelahanka as stops. Travelling on it will cost Rs 200 (what a daily wage labourer earns), more than what BMTC’s Vayu Vajra charges, thus eliminating routine travellers and the labour force on the stretch.

A sophisticated CRS connecting Devanahalli and different locations will provide for a cheap and fast solution to those travelling to the airport or nearby locations, a transit centre will also help passengers to move from Devanahalli railway station to BIA. The CRS will not cost more than an estimated Rs 4,500 crore.

 So where does CRS stand at present? Raj Kumar Khatri, secretary, Infrastructure Development Department, says the department is ready to provide a few rakes to kickstart CRS in its basic form. “There are a few easy and feasible routes where commuter rail can start right now. This should be done at the earliest as CRS in its entirety will take time,” said Khatri.

While the Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT) awaits the feasibility report from RITES in February, the chances of any fund allocation is slim, says DULT commissioner V Manjula. “There has never been a concrete report from any government body till now. A lot of talks may have taken place, but nobody has initiated action. CRS will happen but may not be this year,” said Manjula.

While CRS exists only on paper, just to keep the hopes of people alive, there has reportedly been a bias towards BMRCL projects. Recently, K H Muniyappa, Union Minister of State for Railways, had attended an Oil and Gas conservation event in the City. When Deccan Herald asked him if Karnataka was looking at any other form of rail projects for Bangalore, apart from Metro, he said: “No. Only Metro. We are only looking at Metro.”

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