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Chennai metro rail surges ahead

Chennai Metro’s plan to connect the airport with Kilambakkam along the southern trunk road at a cost of Rs 3500 crore requires more serious thought. It should be far cheaper to strengthen the existing suburban rail line into a high-speed track from Chennai Beach to Chengalpattu with a station at Kilambakkam bus terminus.

The carriageway presently available with the Southern Railway could be upgraded for high-speed trains at much lower costs. In the context of the inevitable need to upgrade existing rail lines to high-speed tracks, such a plan would be more cost-effective.

The tariff of the Indian Railways is vastly cheaper than that of metro rail and thus there is the possibility of an unequal competition that will be in favour of the Indian Railways. The ticket fare from Airport to Guindy in the metro rail is Rs 40, whereas it is Rs 5 in the suburban train.

Commendable publicity effort..

A formidable team, is at Metro Rail’s helm that includes Additional Chief Secretary, T V Somanathan. Finance Secretary, S Krishnan, and Managing Director P K Bansal. The company has been regularly feeding media with information on the performance of the existing operations and kindling thought on expansion. The convenience brought about by the first phase of 45 km operations has resulted in launching additional phases serving other parts of the city.

I believe the focus of the metro should be to connect areas not served by mass transportation and not spend on routes already connected by the railway system.

In a report for the CMDA-Times Research Foundation Chennai 2011 project, I suggested constructing 100 km of surface rail and another 100 km of an underground rail line to take care of the expanding commuter needs over 20 years. Under E Sreedharan, Delhi worked on such a plan and today Delhi Metro provides efficient and convenient commuting for several lakhs.

CMRL deserves praise for learning from its experience on Phase I. Bansal mentioned the economies planned to be achieved in designing and engineering the new systems, both for the carriageways and the underground stations. Redundancies in land requirements, space for the railway stations, concourse… are eliminated.

Welcome marketing efforts

There are efforts to market travel by metro rail. The attempts to provide last-mile connectivity from the stations to homes/offices are specially welcome.
I still believe in building full load on the services by keeping fares low in the initial years. The offer of 50 per cent concession in fares on Sundays and public holidays has proved attractive.

The MRTS took years to catch up due to uncompetitive pricing compared to bus services in parallel routes. If the infrastructure created is to be put to full use, the footfalls should increase manifold from the present average of around 100,000. This could be achieved by low introductory pricing. Once commuters are accustomed to the superior comfort and ease of travel, they will be prepared for shelling out higher fares.

It would be a good idea for the officers of the government whose offices are near metro stations to travel by metro for a day in a week as an act of solidarity.

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