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Namma Metro: Authorities placing optimism it neither promises nor deserves

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By M. A. Siraj and Khader B. Syed
 
 It was in June 2006 that the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh laid the foundation stone for the Namma Metro. It was by far the largest urban infrastructure project taken up for Bengaluru whose population is projected to peak to 19 million by 2031. For a 19 Million projected population, there would be 23 million commuter trips per day. For a sustainable urban transport scenario, 45% of those 23 million trips, i.e. roughly 10 million should be served by publlic transport. Going by the snail’s pace at which the METRO work is proceeding—the tunnel boring machines cutting just a metre of rock under the ground a day—the entire 42-km network of the Namma Metro is not likely to be fully operational before 2017. And even on completion of all its phases, it would cater to only 1 to 1.5 million of the 10 million commuter trips a day that would be taking place in the City by then. The BMTC is expected to be sharing another 4 to 5 million trips. This still leaves a gap of nearly 3-4 million trips that would be looking for some mass transit system. In its absence, the people will have the only option of continuing to use the private and personal vehicles which are the most inefficient mode of urban transport for a city of the size of Bengaluru. 
 
 Excessive lionization of the Namma Metro project has bred a kind of obsession with its capacity to handle the commuters that the City is likely to generate in near future.  This fascination has served to push all other complementary as well as alternative transport options for the city to the backburner. The authorities, it seems, are placing optimism with the project which it neither promises nor deserves. Call it myopia of the city fathers or the highhandedness of the Metro lobby, the State Government has systematically spurned all other alternatives suggested for public transportation for a city of Bengaluru’s size and importance. Chaos on the thoroughfares meanwhile is on the rise and making it an unsustainable city for investment and living. Road users have to grapple with traffic gridlocks, pickets popping up at the drop of a hat, one-ways, and ‘Metro work in progress’ signs at every conceivable turn.
 
The Metro was showcased with such degree of zeal as ‘remedy for all transportation woes of the city’ during the recent years that no other option has found even a modicum of acceptance with the authorities. Be it Suburban Rail, BRTS, revamp of BMTC operations or improvement of pedestrian/cyclist corridors, none has found a place among the priorities of the State Government. 
 
It was during Mr. Jagadish Shettar’s tenure as chief minister that the Department of Urban Land Transport (DULT) came up with a proposal for converting the Outer Ring Road (ORR) into Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS). It was conveniently transferred to Hubli-Dharwad for the precise reason that with ongoing Metro project, the city cannot afford to allocate more resources to other projects. It is nobody’s case that cities like Mysuru, Hassan, Hubballi-Dharwar, Mangaluru should be deprived of any development for better transit choices. But there was hardly any justification for the same not to being taken up with Bengaluru. For some strange reasons, BMRCL considered every other infrastructure project to be direct challenge and competitor to Metro project.
 
Much before the Metro appeared on the mental horizon of the authorities, there was a proposal to introduce a circular rail system in the City since 1987. It kept cropping up at frequent intervals for discussion till it took a more concrete shape into ‘Commuter Rail’ (nicknamed Namma Railu) proposal around 2010. A citizen advocacy group ‘Praja-Raag’ in partnership with IISc-based Centre for Infrastructure, Sustainable Transport and Urban Planning (CiSTUP) came up with a ‘Plan to Action’ report proposing a comprehensive railway network plan around Bengaluru.  It envisaged use of existing railway lines and infrastructure for running an affordable, reliable and frequent commuter train service connecting Bengaluru with surrounding suburbs and towns of Ramanagaram, Tumakuru, Doddaballapur, Chikkaballapur, Bangarapet and Hosur. The idea was to take growth to these towns and allow people to live there as well as have a cheaper, dependable, efficient, hassle-free daily access to their worksites in Bengaluru’s city centre. 
 
 Sustained advocacy exerted enough pressure on DULT to engage the RITES into producing a feasibility report in July 2012 for a Commuter Rail Service. It identified the existing infrastructure gaps that could be filled in the most cost-effective manner and lay a network on an area of 440 sq. km. around the City with a projected daily ridership of 25 lakh commuters. RITES had pegged its cost at Rs. 8,500 crore against the Rs. 40,000 crore earmarked for the Metro. It was not to replace the Metro but targeted at complementing it and the BMTC services. Even the finances it required were needed in smaller installments. Mere Rs. 200 crore for the Phase-I would have brought in 24 initial services within six to nine month and substantially mitigated woes of daily commuters. 
 
 Following RITES report, the Namma Railu project, rechristened as Suburban Rail, received the approval of State Government headed by Mr. Shettar but had to be kept on hold with the Election Code coming into force. Surprisingly, even the new Government headed by Mr. Siddramiah also gave it green signal in July 2013. But then the coldness induced by brief political rivalry between the CM and the then Union Railway Minister Mallikarjuna Kharge threw a spanner into the works. The State Government failed to use the good offices of Mr. Kharge or his successor Mr. Sadanand Gowda who held the portfolio briefly. One wanted the CM to approach him with the Suburban Rail file and another insisted that the project to be a   baby to be handled by Urban Development Ministry. 
 
Meanwhile a rude jolt has been given by the commuters in Whitefield who have come together to register their protest and demand better rail connectivity with the City and areas beyond. Misplaced optimism about Namma Metro, insecurities it triggers with regard to alternative and complementary transport options and total official apathy towards the citizens woes have all combined to make the city less and less navigable on an average workday. Quo vadis? 
 
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M. A. Siraj is an independent journalist based at Bengaluru. Khader B. Syed is an IT professional based at Maryland, US. He is founder member of the Praja-RAAG, Bengaluru. 
 
Disclaimer - Opinions and views expressed here are by authors only.

Comments

Naveen's picture

Excellent

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53 users have liked, including you.

Fine & accurate write up. BRTS on ORR & Suburban rail are both much needed projects that have not taken off. The city keeps waiting for Namma Metro. Wish the authorities pursue BRTS & especially Suburban rail since there is no alternative for Bangalore.

murali772's picture

illogical priorities and resulting costs imposed on citizens

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If plain logic was the criterion, Namma Railu (Commuter Rail) should very easily have topped the list of solutions to many of the city's problems, traffic congestion, to begin with.

Alas, that apparently is not the case. The city and citizens are paying a huge price for it all, in very many ways, and it is mounting by the hour.

Will sense dawn on the powers that be even now?

Muralidhar Rao
Sanjeev's picture

No station in sight for Whitefield employees

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BENGALURU: Vaidyanathan Narayanan, a techie from Ulsoor, takes the Metro to Byappanahalli where he boards a passenger train at 10.10am every day. He alights on the tracks behind Prestige Shantiniketan where the train makes an unauthorized stop and then walks for a kilometre to reach his office in Whitefield.

In the evening, he boards a 6pm passenger train from the same stop, reaches Byappanahalli by 6.10pm and boards the next train to reach home by 6.30pm. Narayanan is among the scores of people who make use of this informal arrangement of the railways to drop personnel working in a goods shed nearby. But the thousands who head to work to this part of the city aren't as lucky as there are no trains that suit their timings. Incidentally, there is a goods shed station ahead of Prestige Shantiniketan but employees prefer this informal arrangement as it is closer to their workplace.

The goods shed station located a little ahead of KR Puram railway station has a single platform but it's narrower than the footpaths on M G Road.

A silent protest has been brewing for over a year, with commuters seeking more trains between Ramanagaram and Whitefield and a proper railway station at this spot. But eight months after PC Mohan, MP (Bengaluru Central), allocated Rs 98 lakh under the MPLADS scheme towards the construction of the station, no work has begun. Whitefield techies had planned a protest on June 1 to pressure the MP and the railways for the station. But the plan has been called off due to lack of support from residents.

"We want action, otherwise there's no point wasting time and energy in making a government agency do its duty," said Vaidyanathan.

PC Mohan said the South Western Railway officials are now demanding another Rs 76 lakh to build the station. "The divisional railway officials told me it'll take them two more months to figure out the possibility having a station. They assured me of a detailed project report. I am ready to pay the additional sum but I have noticed that the railways, in general, is very slow with its projects," he said.

Sanjeev Dymannavar, commuter rail activist, said, "The zonal railway is least bothered about its service. It only thinks commuter trains are a loss-making business, hence don't want to build the station       http://timesofindia.india... Even for small station which is suppose to come with One crore,  it going in circle for more then two years.   But we have METRO stations  costing 300 Crore and this  Prestige shantiniketan station will cost only  1% of METRO station

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sanjeev's picture

Truth is coming out Hom BMRCL taken it easy path

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Any Project Manager will attempt difficult and long lead  activity and  BMRCL has done it excatly opposite.\

Thats why we have Jayanagar segment and Kengeri Segment were ready two year back and 6000 to 7000 crroe was wasted for two years ( simple interest calculation will be for two years will be Rs 1200 to 1500 Crore lost by BMRCL )

Same way BMRCL does not care for Commuters is very evident from the thing : Yesvanthpur Railway station and METRO station connectivity does not have skywalk till now.

After segment of Jalahallo opened,  they have called subway at METRO stations at Pennya, Jalahalli,  is this way of planning.

Poor way of Handling commercial space at all METRO stations :  almost  One Lakh Sq Ft built up area is vacant in all  METRO stations to gether : imagine how much rent BMRCL is loosing every day on commercial aspect.

 



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