Name the quickest, most affordable way to get to the Kempegowda International Airport (KIA), causing zero congestion on the road. Undoubtedly, this ought to be a train ride along an existing rail link that seamlessly connects Yeswanthpura to Devanahalli, brushing past the airport compound.
Last week, the Bangalore International Airport Limited (BIAL) reiterated its commitment to building a halt station on this line, inside its premises. To help passengers and airport workers get to the terminal buildings and back, the airport operator promised high-frequency shuttle buses to cover the three km distance.
Why the delay?
So, what stops the South Western Railways and the government from getting this economically viable, perfectly workable alternative into action mode? Is it the Airport Metro link that could take well over eight years to chug in? Is it the cab, bus and toll-way lobbies, worried that any shift in commute preference could eat into their revenues?
But the key question remains: Why should Bengalureans wait a decade to bypass the congested roads, when the suburban rail offers a credible alternative that can be in ship shape in six months? No land needs to be acquired, and the money to upgrade stations, signals and tracks is a fraction of what a Metro link would cost.
For everyone, the immediate choice should be a no-brainer. To understand just how real the ground facts are, a DH team took a DEMU train ride on the Yeswanthpura-Devanahalli line on Friday and returned convinced. The route is clear, the land ample, and the stations await an upgrade.
Chugging out of the Yeswanthpura Junction at 10.35 am, the train arrived at 11.25 am, less than 10 minutes after it passed the airport wall. The train halted at Lottegollahalli, Kodigehalli, Yelahanka Junction, Bettahalsoor and Dodjala. But this ride could be hastened by a MEMU train, an upgrade that calls for electrification and signalling upgrades.
Once the track is upgraded, speeds of 100 to 110 kmph could be achieved, informs the loco pilot. This could effectively reduce the time from Yeswanthpura to a future halt station to less than 30 minutes.
But the 30-minute travel time is already a reality from Yeswanthpura to Dodjala station. The 10.35 am DEMU train arrives at Dodjala at 11.05 am. Less than 5 kms away is the Trumpet Interchange, points out Rajkumar Dugar, whose online petition for an airport rail link has garnered over 11,000 signatures.
BIAL, says Dugar, could introduce shuttle buses to cover the less than 10 km distance between the KIA terminals and Dodjala station. This way, he estimates that almost 20% of the cars that head to the airport can be reduced on Airport Road. The DEMU ticket is currently fixed at Rs 10.
Yet, despite the overwhelming evidence of a system mostly in place, the government and the railways show no urgency. “The State says it wants to activate the suburban line. But even after so many years, the project is still in the concept stage. No groundwork has been done. There is no information on capacity, or capacity-building,” points out urban rail analyst, Sanjeev Dyamannavar.
Consider this: In 2013, the Infrastructure Department had done a study to provide the suburban rail connectivity. Dyamannavar recalls, “In 2014, when Sadananda Gowda was the Railways Minister, a halt station was proposed near the airport. But nothing moved.”
A year later, in 2015, an elevated suburban rail corridor was proposed from Yeswanthpura to the airport by K J George, the then Minister for Bengaluru Development. This too remained a mere statement. “The former SWR Divisional Railway Manager had said that with around Rs 40 lakh, a halt station could be built. That did not materialise as well.”
If the relatively high traffic on the rail link from Yeswanthpura to Yelahanka is a factor, a second route shows up on every railway map: The line that connects Yelahanka station with K R Puram and Baiyappanahalli through Channasandra.
As early as 2006, an extension of this line was proposed by the State Government. The proposal was this: To start an airport line from the Cantonment Station through Bengaluru East, Baiyappanahalli, Channasandra, Yelahanka and beyond. The line was to be commissioned in time for the new airport’s launch in Devanahalli.
But 13 years ago, the Yelahanka – Channasandra line was a single track. This line has now been double-tracked. Only about two kms from Channasandra to Baiyappahanalli remains to be doubled. Once the coaching terminal at Baiyappanahalli gets operationalised, dedicated airport trains could start from here, say experts.
Since Baiyappanahalli is seamlessly linked to the adjacent Metro terminal, heading to the airport could be a breeze for those in Whitefield, Indiranagar, Halasuru and surrounding localities. Under Phase 2, the Metro line is being extended to ITPL and beyond.
Preferring anonymity, many middle-level railway officials feel the Channasandra station on this route could be ideal for an upgrade. There is enough land here. Close proximity of this station to the Outer Ring Road areas add more value. A few more halt stations on the Channasandra – Yelahanka route would suffice.
The draft proposal on suburban rail network released recently by RITES, an engineering consultancy firm, does talk about an airport link. But its focus is on a six-km link (4 km underground, 1 km elevated and 1 km at grade) from the Trumpet Interchange to the airport terminal. However, it appears, BIAL would rather prefer Namma Metro to head to its terminals.