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The elusive, much needed single urban transport authority

St Thomas Mount is just 5 km away from Velachery. 4.5 km of elevated railway has been constructed the balance 500m remains unfinished due to litigation on the part of property owners demanding higher prices.

The elusive, much needed single urban transport authority

In an address on the future of car and urban mobility at the Chennai International Centre, renowned technocrat Dr. V Sumantran referred to the need for strong focus on public transportation. Due to lack of coordination between the railway and bus transport, Chennai’s record in this matter has been dismal. 

In the 1980s Chennai pioneered in India the elevated railway system, MRTS, the mass rapid transport system. In the first phase, 8.55 km was constructed from Chennai Beach to Mylapore. The original estimate of around Rs. 55 crore liberally overshot and ended with Rs. 269 crore due to much delayed construction. 

Extension of this again got stuck with the state government treating it as a Central project and refusing to share a portion of the cost. At the Economic Editors’ Conference 1987, railway minister Madhavrao Scindia stressed on the state’s participation in urban projects of specific benefits to a metro. I raised this with then chief minister M G Ramachandran at his post-budget press conference. But the chief minister held that it was a Central project which has to be its responsibility. 

Maharashtra agreed to this condition. It constructed the Rs. 350 crore Thane-Belapur railway project in just four years, contributing a third of the cost. President R Venkataraman inaugurated it. The Tamil Nadu government relented later and over tim,  extended it to Velachery. Of course, prices escalated, and we ended up spending Rs. 769 crore.

 

Vital missing link...

The original plan was to connect Velachery with St Thomas Mount just 5 km away. Of this around 4.5 km has been constructed, the small balance portion remains unfinished due to litigation on the part of property owners demanding ever increasing prices. 

The convenience and comfort lost can be imagined: by connecting this stretch with St Thomas Mount on the old Beach-Tambaram section, already connected with the Chennai Metro Rail Corporation, there can be a convenient rail connectivity to Adayar, Mylapore or Triplicane from any point on the other two lines. 

 

Rs 36 by CMRL: Rs 7 by bus…

There are other anomalies: vast differences in pricing tickets by the Indian Railway, (suburban and MTRS), CMRL and the state-run metro bus transport corporation:  the CMRL charges Rs. 36 for travel from Anna Nagar to Ekkattuthangal. The parallel bus service is priced Rs. 7. 

I had pointed to such a difference when the MRTS commenced operations in the 1980s: from Triplicane to Chennai Beach, MRTS priced its ticket at Rs. 2 while the state metro transport corporation’s fare was 50 paise. The result: MRTS services had poor custom, resulting in a low frequency of service and consequent poor revenues.

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