A decade-long campaign by Bengaluru
citizens to use the railway lines that circle India’s infotech hub for a suburban train system is finally taking off.
On Monday, Indian Railways
(IR) signed a pact with the Karnataka government. It says a company will be established to operate and manage the suburban network, offering affordable and faster ways for commuters to travel across this city, where vehicles move an average of 10 kmph on the clogged roads.
Karnataka will contribute 80 per cent of the Rs 360 crore to convert 15 trains to electric commuter ones; IR will give the rest. The first commuter train or (Mainline Electric Multiple Unit or MEMU) will be to Ramanagara, 35 km to the west.
“We see this as a good step but we want this to translate into real work and see results,” said Sanjeev Dyamannavar, founder of a forum called Praja Raaj, who has spearheaded this campaign for over a decade. “We also want the infrastructure to be provided by the state government, for which we will continue to follow up.”
The city, home to over 11 million people, had 6.59 mn vehicles as on October, according to the state transport department website. With slightly over one vehicle for every two people, Bengaluru
has among the highest of such concentrations in the country. At the same time, public transport has struggled to scale up.
The first phase of the 32-km Metro Rail, a decade in the making, is expected to be ready by April. Plans are on to build the second and third phase, to be completed by 2025. Bengaluru
Metropolitan Transport Corporation has 6,186 buses but this is not enough to take private vehicles off the road. Its fleet was bigger at 6,775 vehicles in 2012-2013; in 2015, it did not add a single new bus.
Today, it takes 2-2.5 hours on road from the city railway station to the suburb of Whitefield, as against 45 minutes on a train.
In 2013, chief minister Siddaramaiah, in his Budget presentation, committed funds for a suburban rail
system. Union railways minister Suresh Prabhu committed the Centre’s contribution in his 2016 Budget.
“I hope the state government provides land to the railways. This will benefit more than 40 lakh people on an immediate basis and make the city more livable,” says Mahesh Mahadevan, personnel head for Makino India and part of the citizens’ group which is campaigning for suburban rail.
“Rail connectivity is already available across the city; it is just about making it work.”
J M Chandra Kisen, chairman for the Center for Infrastructure, Sustainable Transportation and Urban Planning, a research group at the Indian Institute of Science
here, says: “A large rail network already exists across the city. Hence, the suburban railway
is a project that can be executed quickly, without much infrastructure requirement. It will surely reduce the traffic, pollution and travel time for people.”