With little work done on the commuter rail project announced by the Railways in the current rail budget, Bengaluru’s citizens, fed up with the constant traffic gridlock and the snail-paced progress of the Metrorail, have started a public movement to hasten the suburban rail system.
The movement, Chuku Buku Railu Beku (a child’s phrase for a train in Kannada), has asked people on social media to board the Bangalore-Bangarpet train on December 17 that starts at 9 am at City Railway Station and travel in it till Whitefield, a city suburb, picking up supporters on the way at every halt.
Though urban transport is a state subject, the union railway minister, Suresh Prabhu, had announced in the current budget that the city would get a commuter rail system, with the state government sharing cost equally with the Centre.
According to the Railways, unless three pit lines and a coaching depot are constructed at Byappanahalli yard, suburban trains cannot be operated, as all tracks leading out of Bengaluru are saturated. Once completed, this depot would enable long-distance trains to be parked and serviced here and reduce congestion at the City and Yeswanthpur stations, thereby making way for a commuter rail system. However, work on the third pit line has come to a halt with the Karnataka government not releasing its share of the funds yet.
Speaking to YourStory, Srinivas Alavalli, a proactive member from Citizens against Steel Flyover, says,
The agenda is to replicate a movement like the one against the steel flyover. We have volunteers joining at every station en route. The 35-minute ride has many well known Bengaloreans joining in, including music director Raghu Dixit.
A RITES study had projected that a suburban rail network around Bengaluru could easily carry up to 35 lakh passengers per day.
Such a system would take a lot of pressure off the city’s roads, which are choking with more than 65 lakh vehicles for a population of just one crore.
The Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC), which operates 6,700 city buses, carries 51 lakh commuters every day, according to Ramalinga Reddy, state transport minister. Any more addition of buses would lead to more congestion and pollution.
The city’s Namma Metro currently carries nearly two lakh commuters a day, and once the entire Phase I network is ready early next year, it is expected to carry up to five lakh passengers. The extensions to the Metro from Byappanahalli to Whitefield, the tech hub, will be ready only by 2020. The Outer Ring Road Metrorail corridor is expected to carry more than 10 lakh users per day, but this proposal is yet to be cleared by the state cabinet.
“It is sad that the state government has not released a small amount needed for a suburban rail project that will benefit all of Bengaluru while it is pushing full steam ahead with the steel flyover between Chalukya Circle and Hebbal, which is costing in excess of Rs 1,800 crore for just 6.7 km. An extension planned at the Hebbal end will again increase the cost by Rs 400 crore or so,” says Alavalli.
“A suburban railway fills the gap till the Metro becomes fully operational, and moreover, it can be used to take the pressure off the roads as there are railway tracks leading out of Bengaluru in every direction except the south. The state government should immediately establish a Special Project Vehicle (SPV) on the lines of the Mumbai Rail Vikas Nigam and appoint a managing director for this project. The SPV will plan how many diesel or electric rakes are required, upgrade the signalling network, and plan routes and frequencies,” says Bengaluru Central Lok Sabha MP P.C. Mohan.
A railway officer concurs, saying that the SPV could look into even creating additional lines that could eventually lead to dedicated suburban lines like those in Mumbai and Chennai.
Mohan is the first MP in the country to use his MPLAD funds, worth Rs 2.74 crore, to build a railway station and other facilities at Hoodi halt, used by techies and students who travel by inter-city or long-distance trains.
“As people used to get down along the tracks near Hoodi and hop on and off passing trains, after requests from travellers, we planned a proper halt and station building, along with an approach road. The Hoodi station (between KR Puram and Whitefield) already caters to more than 2,000 passengers, and in the future will be part of the planned commuter rail system for Bengaluru,” he says.
When asked if the CSF had shifted its focus from the Steel Flyover to the suburban train, Alavalli says,
The focus has shifted from `say no to steel flyover’ to ` say yes to suburban rail’. We are very confident of leaving a positive impact.
The team has also initiated a tweet-a-thon, starting December 15 night.
“The state government should play the role of a catalyst here and use railway lines, which are a national asset, to start a dedicated commuter rail service connecting various parts of the city as well as satellite towns, including those up to 100 km away,” says an activist.
Railway tracks originating from City Station extend towards the nearby towns of Tumkur, Doddaballapur, Chikkaballapur, Bangarpet, Hosur and Mysore.
With another railway budget coming up in a few weeks, the state government has already lost precious time. One only hopes an SPV is started so that Bengalureans can get an alternative mode of public transport and reduce their dependency on two and four wheelers.