Bengaluru's suburban rail network, finally on track?

From vociferous, activist campaigns to drawing room drafts to a skeletal service, a suburban rail network for Bengaluru has been in the works for ages. Now with the Extended Railway Board’s green signal for a 148-km, four-corridor project, is it finally time to rejoice?

The Union Cabinet’s final approval is pending, and the funding specifics need to be worked out. But urban rail activists, travelling commuters and mobility experts are euphoric. Here’s why: The overwhelming popularity of the skeletal service has already activated a flurry of parallel projects, all geared to complete a full-fledged system.


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First, the four approved corridors. Crisscrossing the city and beyond, the network will have suburban trains chugging along four routes, between KSR Bengaluru City and Devanahalli; Chikkabanavara, Yeswanthpura and Baiyappanahalli; Heelalige – Yelahanka – Rajanakunte; and Kengeri – KSR Bengaluru – Electronics City.

Reduced stations

Consultancy firm RITES had first proposed a 161-km network, complete with 82 stations. While the network length is now down 13 kms, the number of stations has also been reduced to 53. The estimated cost is also down from about Rs 19,000 crore to Rs 16,000 crore in the revised plan.

Once the Union Cabinet approval comes through, a Special Project Vehicle (SPV) is likely to be constituted to push the project forward. At least 100 personnel are expected to be part of the driving force, to be stationed at a location identified by the state government near the Sandal Soap Factory.

Cost-sharing

The State and Centre will equally share 40% of the cost, while 60% will have to be raised from external sources. Will this prove tricky? Unlikely, says urban mobility analyst Sanjeev Dyamannavar. “Since both the Centre and State have the same party rule, it would be politically easier to clear the project,” he notes.

The Detailed Project Report (DPR) is ready, aerial surveys of land available and required are at an advanced stage, and all the stake-holders have had multiple meeting, points out Dyamannavar.

Besides, Members of Parliament, Tejaswi Surya and P C Mohan, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Railways Suresh Angadi are all on board, pushing for the project’s early kick-off.

Mounting demand

Suburban rail’s potential to decongest the city’s roads has already been demonstrated, even if in a limited sense, along the K R Puram to Whitefield stretch. Hundreds of IT professionals have left their private vehicles back home, opting instead for the skeletal services.

Indeed, the existing services are not perfect. Commuters often demand more trains and better frequency during peak office commute hours. But the alternative, the road, continues to be a mess with Metro construction, traffic diversions and more.

So, how soon can Bengalureans expect a ride on the full-fledged suburban system? The entire network is scheduled to be ready only by 2026. Besides land acquisition, stations – both elevated and at grade -, signalling upgrade, road and rail bridges, the project will have two depots for maintenance work.

Momentum building

But several ongoing railway works have given the project some momentum. For instance, the Baiyappanahalli terminal is expected to be operationalised by March 2020. The platforms, the tracks and even the approach road-widening works are nearing completion.

Four new platforms exclusively for suburban trains at the Cantonment Station, additional platforms at the Yeswanthpura terminal, the Yelahanka-Doddaballapura track-doubling work commencing in December, completion of the Baiyappanahalli-Hosur line electrification early next year and gradual elimination of level-crossings could push the project further.

Though not part of this project, the proposed halt station near the Trumpet Interchange at the Kempegowda International Airport (KIA) on the Devanahalli line is also expected to build the momentum. The halt station is likely to be ready in December.

Challenges ahead

However, the project is not without challenges. Rail experts feel the decision to reduce the number of stations to 53 should be reconsidered as footfalls could dramatically increase once the whole network is operationalised.

The suggestion is this: Even if funds are an issue, the provision could be made in the design to build the stations later. To cut costs, some of the elevated stations could be built at grade, making way for future expansions.

Many existing stations on the Hosur line, for instance, are in dire need of an infrastructure upgrade. If this is accomplished on a priority basis, the Outer Ring Road and Sarjapur Road traffic could be decongested to a great extent, observe mobility experts.

Level crossings

Elimination of level crossings is another challenge. Completion of the flyover near the Defence land close to Baiyappanahalli Railway Station would mean zero crossings between KSR Station and Whitefield. However, taking out multiple crossings on the Yeswanthpura-Hosur line could prove to be a mammoth task.

If planned and executed well, the suburban rail network could dramatically alter the way Bengalureans travel. Key to the good planning is integration with the BMTC bus network and the Namma Metro stations.

The report prepared by RITES has proposed seamless integration between the suburban rail and Metro stations at Majestic, Yeswanthpura, Kengeri, Cantonment, Whitefield, K R Puram, Baiyappanahalli, Jnanabharathi and Nayandahalli.

None of the challenges are, however, insurmountable. For the citizen groups, who have been campaigning for years, the hope in the horizon this time seems more real than ever. Citizen activists behind campaigns such as Chuku Buku Beku and Modalu Train Beku are upbeat.

In the months to come, they expect more trains on the existing skeletal network, more halt stations, better road and bus connectivity to the stations, a walkability upgrade and a much improved coordination between all stakeholders involved.

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