Bumpy ride for Kerala's Silver Line railway project

Bumpy ride for Kerala's Silver Line high-speed railway project

The much-hyped project of the Pinarayi Vijayan government is in the initial stages of land acquisition and has been already witnessing stiff resistance from landowners

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. Credit: PTI File Photo

The proposed Silver Line semi high-speed rail project of Kerala that aims at reducing the travel time from Thiruvananthapuram in the south to Kasargod in the north, covering a distance of 530 kilometres, to four hours is likely to have a bumpy ride as the Congress-led United Democratic Front has raised red flag to the project citing viability and ecological issues.

The much-hyped project of the Pinarayi Vijayan government is in the initial stages of land acquisition and has been already witnessing stiff resistance from landowners. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has sought the opposition's cooperation for the project.

The Silver Line has been projected not just as a faster mode of transportation, but also as an eco-friendly alternative mode of transport that could decongest the state roads and bring down pollution caused by vehicles. It is estimated that once commissioned. over 46,000 persons who use roads would shift to Silver Line daily and over 12,850 vehicles would remain off the road. This would not only reduce pollution but bring down fuel consumption. It will have eleven stops in ten out of the 14 districts.

Land acquisition would be the major challenge for the project as around 20,000 houses with around 1.5 lakh people and 50,000 shops would have to be displaced for acquiring 1,198 hectre land for the project. Besides, around 150 hectre farmland would be also required. The estimated project cost is around Rs. 64,000 crore and various models like public-private-partnership and foreign funding are being considered for the project. 

A  panel of the opposition UDF has reported that the project was not viable and poses environmental issues. A four to 10 metre wall on either sides of the rail line across the state would affect water flow, especially during heavy rains and could lead to floods, the opposition maintained and suggested strengthening the existing rail network and setting up airstrips as alternatives.

Kerala Rail Development Corporation, a state-railway ministry joint venture for improving rail infrastructure, which is the implementing agency of the project, maintains that the fencing on either sides of the track, which is mandatory as the running speed is around 200 kmph, would be designed in such a manner that water flow would not be affected. In paddy fields elevated structures are planned to avoid damage to fields. Expansion of the existing rail network involved serious practical and technical hurdles and hence the fresh high-speed rail is the suitable option for Kerala.

Delhi Metro Rail Corporation's former principal advisor 'Metro Man' E Sreedharan also said that strengthening the existing rail network would be only a temporary option and an alternative high speed line was required for the state.

"However, the Silver Line project was not at all feasible especially due to the high land requirement and displacements involved. What is suited for the state was an elevated and underground rail line that would require minimum displacement. The DMRC had mooted a high-speed rail line in Kerala earlier, it was not taken forward," he said.

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