Public transport in Chennai and its suburbs
PUBLIC TRANSPORT in Chennai metropolis and its suburbs is provided by Metro Transport Corporation buses, State Transport Corporation buses and by electric multiple units (EMUs) run by Southern Railway. As per 2001 Census, 40 lakh people reside in the Chennai Corporation area and 60 lakhs in the neighbouring districts of Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur. Nearly 35 lakh passengers daily use the MTC and STC buses and four lakh passengers in the Chennai Beach-Tambaram-Chengalpattu sector, two lakhs passengers in the Chennai Central-Arakkonam-Tiruttani sector and one lakh passengers in the Chennai Central-Sullurpeta sector daily use EMUs. Thus, buses carry five times more passengers than suburban trains in Chennai and its suburbs. The total number of private vehicles in Chennai and its suburbs is nearly 25 lakhs.
The city has seen significant residential growth on the southern side near Velachery in the recent past. Old Mahabalipuram Road is fast developing into an IT corridor and a number of colleges and industries have come up between Tambaram and Chengalpattu. Rapid residential growth is seen in the northern and western parts also.
The problems faced in providing metro rail transport are the very high cost of infrastructure and the very long time period required for execution. Work on the Kolkata Metro started in 1972 and so far 17 km has been commissioned for service. The Delhi Metro was approved in 1996 and so far 33 km of the facility has been commissioned for service. Work on the Mass Rapid Transit System in Chennai started in 1983 and so far 16 km of the facility has been commissioned for service from Chennai Beach to Tiruvanmiyur. The average cost of providing Metro transport ranges from Rs.100 crores to Rs. 300 crores per km of double line track.
Main reason for high cost
The main reason for the high cost and high gestation period for these projects is that construction of a metro rail system is started after full development has taken place in the user area. This necessitates the metro rail to be taken either above the ground on trestles or below the ground by making tunnels involving high costs and long time for construction.
The recently completed suburban gauge conversion project in the Chennai Beach-Tambaram-Chengalpattu sector shows a way out of this situation. Construction was started in 2000. As four lakh passengers were using the services daily, it was necessary to take up the work in phases with minimum disruption to the services. In spite of this major constraint, in a span of five years conversion of 115 km of track has been completed successfully. With this, two dedicated suburban lines have been provided from Chennai Beach to Tambaram.
For complicated problems like providing public transport in metros, no universal solution can be prescribed. Action has to be specific to the metro and the areas served. However, if provision of rail infrastructure precedes the habitation the gains are enormous. In Chennai, mail/express/passenger and goods trains are handled on the same tracks as suburban EMU trains except in the Chennai Beach-Tambaram section. Keeping this scenario in mind, for Chennai and its suburbs action needs to be initiated immediately for providing rail infrastructure as follows:
1. Providing a new suburban surface corridor in Velachery-Mahabalipuram route (50 km). Approximate cost Rs. 200 crores. Approximate completion period 2 years.
2. Providing a new suburban surface corridor in Velachery-Tambaram-Avadi-Ponneri route (75 km). Approximate cost Rs. 300 crores. Approximate completion period - 2 years.
3. Providing separate suburban corridors in Chennai Egmore-Tambaram-Chengalpattu-Kancheepuram-Arakkonam-Tiruvallur- Chennai Central and Chennai Beach-Basin Bridge-Gummidipoondi routes. Approximate cost Rs. 800 crores. Approximate completion period 5 years.
On dedicated suburban tracks on all the routes mentioned above, EMUs should be run at eight-minute intervals in the combinations of three, six, nine and 12 coaches. With this, EMUs will start carrying five times more passengers than buses and provide fast, comfortable, safe and peaceful travel for those living and working in Chennai and its suburbs. There will also be less environmental pollution and high economy in operational costs. In Mumbai, all suburban trains run on the surface and carry nearly 60 lakh passengers a day.
The scheme merits serious consideration as it has the potential for improving the lives of more than a crore of people. The Finance Minister has mentioned in his budget speech that under the National Urban Renewal Mission urban facilities will be provided in our cities to cope with the rapid increase in urbanisation and he is looking forward to receiving proposals in this regard. Will Chennai make a call in time on the above lines?
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Indian Railway Service of Engineers
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