Level crossing chaos: The Bridge too far

Level crossing chaos: The Bridge too far

Every Crossing is a daily nightmare. Wreaking havoc, peak-hour chaos stumps motorists in a hurry on all narrow roads leading up to the LCs.

Twenty-five railway Level Crossings (LCs), triggering extreme congestion in a traffic-clogged city of 83 lakh vehicles! That is Bengaluru for you, a wannabe smart city crippled by an ancient model of rail-road conflict resolution. Where are all those promised bridges?

Every Crossing is a daily nightmare. Wreaking havoc, peak-hour chaos stumps motorists in a hurry on all narrow roads leading up to the LCs. From Sampigehalli on Jakkuru Main Road to Kaggadasapura, Chinnapanahalli to Panathur Road, the wait time is rising as vehicular numbers mount.

But is this only a road traffic headache? Hardly, as every crossing spells a 10-15 minute delay for trains.

Fewer LCs should mean faster trains, and yes, more local trains for a city crying for a mega switch from road to rail. So, why are the Railways not too keen to eliminate the vexed Crossings?

Land acquisition

Inevitably, land acquisition is an issue. That brings the Bruhath Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and Defence Ministry into the picture. Lack of interest, general apathy and poor coordination has meant no progress is made on any Road Over Bridge (ROB) or Road Under Bridge (RUB) for years.

The Railways had built part of an ROB near Baiyappanahalli Railway Station. But to acquire a small piece of land from the Defence Ministry to complete the bridge with a landing, it had to wait for five years. In the process, the city missed out on many new trains that could have decongested the roads.

Former Defence Minister Nirmala Seetharaman intervened recently to clear the decks for land transfer, and this ROB should be completed in a few months. But no such luck awaits scores of similar LCs in the City: Over 10 on the Yeswanthpura-Hosur line, four each on the KSR Bengaluru-Chikkabanavara and KSR-Kengeri lines, and three LCs on the Yeswanthpura-Doddaballapur line.

Outdated rules

The Railways work on an old, outdated rule, notes urban mobility analyst Sanjeev Dyamannavar. “They propose to eliminate a level crossing only when they undertakes doubling of a track or when traffic rises beyond a threshold. An outdated rule says the Centre and the State should contribute equally to any such project,” he elaborates.

The rule mandates that a ROB, with cost equally split, can be built if the number of Train Vehicle Units (TVU) crosses one lakh, or the LC gate is required to be closed for train passage 12 or more times within a 24-hour period.

TVU is the total number of trains that passes through the LC multiplied by the number of vehicles that cuts across the Crossing in 24 hours. TVU increases when more trains are run during doubling, quadrupling and line electrification. Road traffic is blocked for long periods during these times.

Often, ROB or RUB projects are considered only when the local MLA or MP takes interest to get an undertaking from the State that it would fund 50% of the cost and allot the required land. “But the State can fund 100% of the cost on low capacity lines where the Railways don’t see the need to eliminate LCs. The Yelahanka-Devanahalli route, with only two-three trains is a good example.”

The intervention of former Ministers Veerappa Moily and KH Muniyappa ensured the elimination of most Level Crossings on the Devanahalli line. “But other MLAs and MPs have failed to follow suit.”

Slow progress

The slow progress of the LC near Baiyappanahalli implies the Railways cannot maximize the potential of automatic signaling nearing completion on the Whitefield-KSR Bengaluru line. An estimated 10 trains could be run every hour with the upgraded signaling.

The same holds for the Yeswanthpura-Hosur line, proposed for double-tracking soon. Railway experts say the priority should also be on ROBs and RUBs to eliminate the big number of LCs on the stretch. Only then can the true potential of the track enhancement be realized in terms of new trains and speeds.

Wasted man-hours

Eliminating the Crossings will mean no more man hours wasted in waiting. The Railways too stands to benefit hugely by diverting staff posted at every LC. Every crossing requires three men in shifts of eight hours. The sensitive job too mandates a high degree of alertness. 

Manning a dangerously located LC on the Hosur line in Kaggadasapura, the railway staffers should know how high the stakes are. The Crossing is right at the bend of a narrow road that takes a ‘U’ turn here. Every hour is a peak-hour in this congested area as vehicles pile up for a kilometre and more on either side.

Friday afternoon, the place was crowded as ever. Long-time residents and shopkeepers of the area could be seen help manage the traffic.

“I’ve been here for the last 20 years. Two trains would cross daily, one in the morning and one in the evening. Today, there are several trains throughout the day, and the road congestion is mindboggling,” notes Saravanan, a Kaggadasapura resident for 20 years. 

Dangerous location

About four kilometers from this spot is the Chinnappanahalli LC, located again on a bend in the road. Thanks to the Crossing’s proximity to several schools in the area, dozens of vans are stuck for almost an hour every day. Regular commuters say there is absolutely no interest or inclination to build a ROB or RUB to bypass this mess.

The chaos repeats at the Crossing that links Patelappa Layout with Bhadrappa Layout, not far away from the Hebbal flyover. Besides the daily congestion, there is a recurring danger here. When the gate closes, motorists in a hurry to cross over are often stuck in the middle. A speeding train might just be a minute away.

Despite these recurring nightmares, there is no long-term or short-term LC elimination plan in sight. As the city’s unbridled growth invades every available plot, land for ROBs and RUBs could get impossible to acquire.

Several Crossings have already reached a point of no turn as massive highrises have come up on either side of the LCs. It is a now or never situation, but the stakeholders are yet to take a do or die stand.