To the joy of rail activists in Bengaluru, the Union governmentâ€™s Cabinet Committee of Economic Affairs on Wednesday cleared the long-awaited dedicated suburban railway service for the city. Even though the official announcement was not made on account of the model code of conduct ahead of the November 3 bye-polls, it has been reliably learnt that the final seal of approval for this anticipated project has been made with the cost estimated at Rs 15,800 crore.
The project has been long advocated by citizen activists as an easy, low cost fix to Bengaluruâ€™s ever-growing traffic congestion and resultant pollution problem. Unlike Bengaluru, both Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata have a strong suburban rail network while Delhi has a 389-km strong functional metro network across 10 corridors. On the contrary, Bengaluru till date has a metro network of less than 50 km in two corridors.
With the detailed project report yet to be made public, it is unclear at this point what changes have been further made to the previously decided four corridors of suburban rail spanning over 148-km as the project cost has been curtailed by around Rs 3,000 crore.
The four corridors
The dedicated rail service will cover 148 km in length including 55 km of elevated tracks while the remaining will be at the ground level. Out of the proposed 57 stations, 21 will be elevated while another 36 will be at grade level.
1) Bengaluru City (Majestic/KSR)-Devanahalli (Airport)
2) Byappanahalli-Yeshwantpur- Chikkabanavara
4) Heelalige-Byappanahalli- Rajanukunte.
Reasons for optimism
While officials say that the work for the airport line will be ready in the first four years (by 2025), work in all the lines can be ready by 2027.
According to a pre-feasibility study conducted by Rail India Technical and Economic Service (RITES), the ridership in this dedicated rail service will be double the pre-COVID-19 Metroâ€™s (4.5 lakh) daily ridership.
RITES had estimated the daily trips in these routes can touch up to 9 lakh+ (9,28,432) by 2025. In 2031 and 2041, the daily ridership could even go higher up to daily trips touching 12 lakh+ (12,41,283) and 16 lakh+ (16,83,177), RITES had found.
Compared to the slow expansion of the metro network, the work is likely to get over fast given many of the stations already have some sort of basic infrastructure ready and most of the work involves laying of tracks in railway land.
Causes for concern
While the project has been finally approved by the Union government 37 years after it was first proposed, activists remain cautiously optimistic given the project had been put on hold by both successive state and Union governments.
As per the earlier agreement between the state and Union government, 40% of the project costs will be shared equally between Centre and Karnataka while 60% will be raised through an external funding agency.
Activists feel that fund flow should not be a cause of projects getting delayed. Further unlike other suburban rail projects in the country, the project is not fully funded by the government, and this could potentially increase fares.