Connectivity counts

Last Updated 16 September 2010, 11:00 IST

While Metro Rail is the only major project that has been taken up to improve infrastructure connected with the people’s mobility, commuting public from the surrounding semi-urban centres expect better connectivity with the metropolis. With housing becoming unaffordable within the city, people from surrounding growth areas look for alternative ways to reach the heart of the city.

A cursory look would suggest that if Bangalore has to retain its economic efficiency by continuing to attract labour, skills and talent, it would have to outsource its growth to smaller towns like Chikkaballapur, Doddaballapur, Bangarpet, Ramanagram, Tumkur, Anekal, etc. These would need to be developed in a way that people find these towns accessible as well as inhabitable. Besides housing, schools, hospitals, markets and entertainment centres, these towns will require connectivity by way of a dependable, cheap and safe transit system.  

A commuter rail network nicknamed Namma Railu has been visualised towards this end. A preliminary blueprint titled ‘Namma Railu: Bengaluru Commuter Rail Service’ prepared by Praja, a citizen’s forum for civic awareness and discussion on public issues, has become the talking point. While the Namma Metro aims at providing connectivity within the city, Praja activists do not foresee success in tackling the connectivity unless it is supplemented by mass transit to these growth centres.

Says Sathya Sankaran, a member of the Praja Think Tank, the key is frequent, low cost connectivity which can be achieved by utilising and enhancing the existing train tracks between Bangalore and these growth centres.

The blueprint came in for a lively discussion recently when Centre for Infrastructure, Sustainable Transport and Urban Planning (CISTUP) of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) organised an interaction between Praja activists and officials in various bodies concerned with the City’s development (such as BDA, Urban Development Ministry, Indian Railways, BMRCL, BMTC, BMRDA). CISTUP Chairman Prof T G. Sitharam set the tone when he said, commuter rail can draw people who travel on a daily basis from cities like Tumkur, Yelahanka, Devanahalli, Hoskote, Whitefield, Hosur, Anekal, Kengeri, Ramanagram, Doddaballapur and Chikkaballapur. Sitharam sees it as the only alternative if the city fathers intend to decongest the highways to the city and reduce pollution and energy dependence.

Six growth centres

The Namma Railu envisages six routes connecting six growth centres namely Hosur, Ramanagram, Chikkaballapur, Doddaballapur, Tumkur and Bangarapet with 24 trains per day per route, on a 375 kms track with a carrying capacity of 50 lakh people daily.

The report bases itself on projections of urban growth by the McKinsey Report on India’s Urbanization 2030.  According to the report the City will have more than 10 million people inhabiting it by 2030, of whom a majority will be from the middle and lower income group. For them, the urban mobility challenge will only increase as the working population increases and hence, commute will become a major quality of life indicator.

Further, research by Centre for Ecological Sciences, IISc, reveals a 76 per cent decline in vegetation cover and a 79 per cent decline in water bodies due to the increase in built up space in the urban areas of Bangalore.

This implies that any further significant net addition within the urban area will result in a decline in standard of living.  It might be convenient to conceive a network on paper, but the project coordinator like Sathya Sankaran, Capt Naveen Chandra and Washington based Khader B Syed have not ignored the operational difficulties as of now. 

Major among these is the induction of the Indian Railways which has often not relished any hint of intrusion into its domain. No wonder why the CISTUP interaction brought in Chief Traffic Manager of the South Western Railway, Sajeev Haldar and even Sudhir Chandra from the BMRCL.

While Namma Railu report finds that the existing track is not used to be optimum extent, the Railways counter the charge by telling that the existing track is used by several long distance trains, passenger trains and even goods train and cannot be lent for a suburban train.

(Published 16 September 2010, 11:00 IST)

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