Suburban rail: Flaws in new plan

A modified, diluted, Metro-linked commuter rail system is a shortcut that will severely dent viability of the network

Suburban rail: Flaws in new plan

The government’s proposal for a modified, diluted, Metro-linked suburban rail system for Bengaluru is a shortcut that will severely dent the viability of the network, warn seasoned campaigners for a full-fledged commuter rail service. 

Fixated with the hugely expensive, much-delayed Namma Metro, the government has now proposed a diluted Suburban rail system for the City. But why deny commuters a full-fledged commuter rail network, when its huge potential to dramatically decongest our streets has been proven beyond doubt?

Link Metro with local trains at three terminals as part of Suburban Rail Phase 1. That’s the quick-fix solution articulated by City Development Minister K J George. Let Tumakuru side commuters hop onto Metro at Yeshwantpur, Whitefield passengers shift at Baiyappanahalli and Mandya commuters link up at Kengeri. But is this a recipe for seamless inter-modal commute? 

It is an emphatic “No” from well-informed urban commute analysts and seasoned campaigners for a far cheaper, practical suburban rail service for Bengaluru. “The dilution is neither feasible nor desirable,” says V Ravichander, a view unanimously echoed by most experts. A suburban rail system that could be built by upgrading the existing Indian Railway infrastructure at a fraction of the Namma Metro cost deserves more.

Self-contained CRSHere’s why a truncated CRS-Metro network is hugely problematic: “The Commuter Rail Service (CRS) / suburban rail should be a self-contained system, a comprehensive network that works end to end. Mixing Metro with CRS will negate the viability of CRS itself,” Ravichander explains.

The modified system seems to have emerged out of a desperation to kickstart CRS in some form before the railway budget scheduled for February 25. Consultancy group RITES worked out the first phase plan with an estimated cost of about Rs 1,000 crore. The thinking was this: This might get green signalled as the original cost of the full-fledged network was earlier estimated at Rs 9,000 crore. 

But practical issues abound with the new plan. Suppose a commuter from Whitefield is headed to Yeswanthpur by the proposed system. He takes a local train till Baiyappanahalli, hops onto Metro, alights at Majestic and takes another Metro to Yeswanthpur. This would clearly be much more time-consuming than a CRS trip to Yeswantpur through City railway station.

As long-time CRS campaigner, Sathinder Pal Chopra contends, commuters will be reluctant to shift from one mode to another. Changing platforms is clearly easier than walking 200 to 500 metres to a different station. This practical difficulty will surely be pronounced at Majestic, where even a basic access plan between Metro and Railways is nowhere in sight.

Capacity mismatchThere is another glaring glitch: A mismatch in the capacity of a Metro and a CRS train. The 2012 RITES final report on CRS had worked out that the Metro cannot run beyond a maximum of six coaches, while a conventional CRS train can have 15 coaches. This makes the capacity of CRS 2.5 times that of a Metro train. How will this huge excess passenger load from CRS shift to the Metro?  

Increasing the frequency of Metro trains is not possible. As the RITES report states, a typical metro system is designed to achieve a peak frequency of 20 trains an hour. If both the CRS and Metro run at the same frequency, the excess passenger build-up would be unmanageably huge. 

One critical factor cited for the diluted plan is the congestion at the City Railway Station and lack of adequate space for a capacity upgrade. Extending pit-lines and stabling lines (for parking trains) on the Binny Mill land could ideally decongest the station, freeing up platforms for CRS. But South Western Railway officials contend that the land is not long enough to accommodate trains.  

Clearing Binny Mill landThe problem, as urban rail analyst Sanjeev Dyamannavar points out, is this: There is no seamless connection linking the 3.4-acre Binny Mill land with the railway land housing the City station lines. 

The Cottonpet main road cuts across the two plots. Dyamannavar suggests a four-lane underpass at this point, a BBMP-railway joint project. 

The entire stretch could then be remodelled by shifting the maintenance and goods loading yards. Citing the RITES report, Chopra reminds that the Binny Mill land is a natural extension of the City station. The government, he argues, is not keen to give up the land fully to the Railways for a comprehensive upgrade of the station.  The modified plan talks about linking Metro with the Kengeri, Yeshwantpur and Baiyappanahalli stations. 

But visits to these stations clearly indicate that they are incapable of handling the huge passenger flow. Upgrading these stations by adding stabling lines, automating signals and platform extensions could take years. The quickfix solution apparently is not so quick after all. 

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