Out of track for now...

Out of track for now...

Improved infrastructure and less time spent stuck in traffic is good news for any City. And after a long convoluted wait, Bangalore’s dream of suburban rail network is finally under active consideration. 

In June 2012, RITES Ltd (Rail India Technical and Economic Services Limited) came out with a report on ‘Implementing Commuter Rail Service (CRS) in Bangalore’, which emphasised the need for a mass public transport system on the lines of the local trains in Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad. The report argued that CRS would enable the fastest travel option covering 70-100 kms in 1-1.5 hours and that on completion, it would have the capacity to carry 25 lakh commuters a day.

Recently, Minister for Railways M Mallikarjun Kharge acknowledged this report and said that the government will look into its feasibility and ascertain how the project will be funded and what the cost-sharing between the Union and State government would be. 

Activists for the CRS have a strong case — the service will not require the construction of new rail lines but merely the improvement of the existing railway infrastructure. Sanjeev V Dyamannavar, a member of Praja RAAG and a leading advocate of CRS, explains, “One suburban rail replaces 300 cars or 20 buses on the road. All we need to do is create better platforms, upgrade to automatic signalling and ensure that least time is spent in criss-crossing of trains at terminals. The investment will benefit the railways either ways because out of the Rs 10,000 crore project over three phases, 58 per cent will be utilised by the railways towards the improvement of its own assets.”

Khader B Syed, Praja RAAG’s Namma Railu campaigner, adds, “There will be immense benefits that this project would bring to people living in Bangalore and the towns of Chikballapur, Dodballapur, Tumkur, Mandya, Ramanagram, Malur, Bangarpet and Hosur. Studies have shown that the most beneficial would be the lower middle class and poorer sections of society, who live in these towns and suburbs.”

Pranav Jha, also from Praja RAAG, emphasises that CRS would require new stations as well as improved connectivity for existing ones. “For example, a station at Marathahalli would help connect places like Whitefield or Brookfield to the City with ease, while improved bus connectivity to the nearby Belandur Road Railway Station can help connect job centres around Outer Ring Road. Some of the other proposed corridors within the City include stations at Hebbal, Banaswadi, Malleswaram, Yelahanka, Devanahalli, Doddaballapur and Baiyyappanahalli,” he shares.

Pranav feels that due to bureaucracy and lack of clear ownership of this project, it’s nearly impossible to start and sustain the CRS without a nodal agency. “Indian Railways has always been reluctant to invest in an intra-city commuter services because these are seen as loss-making ventures. While the Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT) is supporting the project in terms of advocacy, it is not mandated to do the funding or inter-agency coordination, which is required to make CRS successful. This is why we need a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) which brings together the railways, state government and enables integrations with authorities like the BMTC and BMRCL,” he adds.

DULT commissioner V Manjula informs that the process to form this nodal agency has begun. “We’ve applied to register the name as per the Companies Act and submitted the required documents to the registrar. We will function as a much-needed nodal agency as soon as we get the sanction,” she says. However, Kharge has only given the go-ahead for the agency, tentatively named ‘Bangalore Rail Vikas Corporation’. 

It’s only a matter of time before the proposal is actually executed and the State and Centre join forces to make this dream a reality.

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