Commuter rail plans going nowhere?

Z A Khan, an engineer living in a Cantonment neighbourhood, does not travel by bus, car or two-wheeler to his office in Electronic City. He takes the Salem Passenger. “I take the train from Bangalore East at about 7:42 AM and get off at Heelalige (close to Chandapura) which is about 7 km from Electronic city. My company van picks me up at the station,” he says. Khan catches the same train back home in the evening at about 5:30 PM. “This is a much more convenient way to travel compared to enduring the ride through the city and traffic clogged Hosur Road,” he adds. A monthly pass on this line costs him Rs. 117 while it is Rs. 7 for a one-way commute.

Khan is among a small number of people in the city who commute on Passenger trains to the outskirts of Bangalore. Though the city does not have Commuter Rail Services (CRS), some commuters like Khan, who work on the outskirts of the city, use Passenger trains as it reduces their travel time. Though a large population in the city travels to industrial areas like Peenya, Bidadi, Electronic City and so on, commuter rail is yet to make a debut in Bangalore.

commuter rail

The Marikuppam passenger (pic: Rajeev Yeshwanth)

State department ready to fund two rakes for CRS

CRS is a state government subject, says Akhil Agarwal, Divisional Railway Manager (DRM), South Western Railways (SWR). “We (Railways) are for long distance trains. CRS is for traveling within the city. This is under state government jurisdiction”. Citizen Matters spoke to officials in the state government’s Infrastructure Development Department (IDD) who say “the Indian Railways (IR) do not do CRS because they feel it’ll be a loss like in Bombay. We wrote a letter to the SWR in February 2009 offering to fund the cost of two rakes. One for Yeshwanthpur to Electronic City, via Hebbal, Lingarajapuram and Byappanahalli. And another from Bangalore City to Devanahalli, via Cantonment, Channasandra and Yelahanka”. The official explains, on the condition of anonymity, that the cost of each rake is Rs. 4.76 crores and that the IR asked them for Rs. 9.5 crores, for two rakes. “We wrote a letter saying they should start the work within a week of their acceptance. IR is yet to respond”, adds the official.

Agarwal confirms receipt of the letter. “About three-four months back we got a letter. They wanted to fund the cost of the rakes. I have forwarded the letter to our office in Hubli. They will send it to the Ministry of Railways”, he says. Responding to whether the Railways approached the IDD for funds, he says, “This is an interactive process. We had written to our Hubli office for funding of rakes. The IDD offered to fund this”. I don’t remember the exact cost mentioned in the letter from the IDD, he adds. On whether the Hubli office forwarded the letter to the Centre, Agarwal says he would have to check with them but is sure that they would’ve sent it. Officials in the IDD say that the IR is willing to introduce CRS with state government funding. “It will be a loss for us. But we are ready to give money to buy the rake. It is good for social improvement”, says the official.

In the IDD’s website the budgetary allocations to the department for the year 2007-2008 includes Rs. 10 crores for CRS for Bangalore. Principal Secretary of the IDD, V Madhu, says this money is for initial studies and that he would be able to give concrete responses after a week.

Commuter rail to connect to industrial areas

CRS has been under discussion for more than a decade now. Many individuals and citizen groups have suggested introducing CRS in Bengaluru. In June this year, the Infrastructure Committee of the Bangalore Chamber of Industry and Commerce (BCIC) sent a memorandum to the Minister of State for Railways K H Muniyappa. This included suggestions to introduce CRS. N Mukund, member, Infrastructure Committee, BCIC says they suggested introducing DEMU (Diesel Electro Motive Unit) Services between Electronic City-Yeshwanthpur and Hosur-Bidadi-Jeevanahalli-Byappanahalli, both in the morning and evening.

“This will greatly benefit employees traveling from and to these destinations as it would reduce travel time and help ease traffic with collateral benefits to the city”, he explains. The memorandum also says there should be a commuter rail system from Devanahalli-Yeshwanthpur-Chandapur (via Electronic city) to help employees traveling to industrial areas of Peenya, Electronic City and Bommasandra. They also suggested providing train services at convenient times between Bangalore International Airport and Bangalore City via Yeshwanthpur-Yelehanka with a platform and ticketing facility at the BIAL flyover as it would help further improve connectivity to the Airport and parts of the city.

 

Mukund, also a former member of the Divisional Railway Users’ Consultative Committee (DRUCC), says, “At a DRUCC meeting they said if the state government is willing to take up the project, the Railways will do a feasibility report”, he says. The DRUCC is a committee established by the Government to secure better representation of railway users and providing more frequent opportunities for consultation between Railway Administrations and users on matters relating to railway services.

Mukund opines that the Agenda for Bangalore Infrastructure Development (ABIDe) Committee set up by the Chief Minister of Karnataka should look into CRS. Incidentally, the ABIDe report on Road Traffic Management & Transportation (RTMT), authored by Prof Ashwin Mahesh and R K Misra of the ABIDe committee, does not mention anything about CRS. The report only mentions “exploring rail connectivity to the airport along existing SW Railway track on Chikballapur route. Hourly service on this route from the major stations within the city (City, cantonment, KR Puram, Whitefield) can be established using existing SW Railway lines”.

Devesh Agarwal, another member of the BCIC’s Infrastructure Committee, says, CRS requires people to leave at a pre-determined time, “There will be a pattern. In Bangalore it is suited for industrial areas”. Agarwal says they suggested that there should be a train leaving Hosur at 7 AM and arrive at Ramnagaram at 9:30 AM and similarly from Ramnagaram to Hosur (through City, Cantonment, Byappanahalli).

The biggest problem of the Railways is that they are completely choked, he says. The DRM reiterates this point saying that it is easier for them to introduce trains in the middle of the day since most long-distance trains arrive/depart in the mornings and late evenings. “We have received demands for trains to Bidadi and Hosur”, Akhil Agarwal says.

Devesh Agarwal says, “Fifty per cent of the traffic on Hosur Road can be reduced if we have CRS”, he explains, adding that the infrastructure (in the form of tracks and stations) exists in Bangalore. “The thinking is what is not there”.

Commuter rail in CTTP report

In 2007, the Rail India Technical and Economic Society (RITES), a Government of India enterprise, brought out a Comprehensive Traffic and Transportation Plan (CTTP) for Bangalore. The report states that “Major developments have been proposed in the suburban towns of Bangalore by BMRDA in the BMR. This is likely to increase interaction between Bangalore and these suburban towns. There will be need to provide commuter rail services to these towns from Bangalore”. It also says that the commuter rail system should be extended up to BMRDA’s new townships and beyond to act as sub-urban services. The CTTP proposes the following routes for CRS:

COMMUTER RAIL CORRIDORS

  • Kengeri – Bangalore City Station 13km
  • Bangalore City Station – Whitefield 24km
  • Bangalore City Station – Baiyyappanahalli Via Lottegollahalli 23km
  • Lottegollahalli to Yelahanka    7km
  • Banaswadi upto BMA Boundary    29km
  • Kengeri- BMA Boundary 9km
  • Yeshwantpur to BMA Boundary 14km
  • BMA Boundary Hosur 12km
  • BMA Boundary- Ramanagaram 23km
  • BMA Boundary to Tumkur 50km

TOTAL LENGTH 204km

Pranav Jha, a founding member of www.praja.in, refers to the CTTP proposal, saying there has been no clarity from the government after this. “Railways say state government will have to do and state government says Railways”, he retorts, explaining that neither Railways nor the state may think CRS to be a viable project. But Pranav Jha adds that CRS will use existing tracks, therefore requiring low investment and quick returns, provided plans are made to look at how people will get to the stations from their homes and offices since trains do not drop you at your doorstep.

For this, Devesh Agarwal of BCIC suggests that BMTC buses can be introduced specifically for these areas and concepts like share taxis (like in Mumbai) could be looked at. He adds that even companies like Toyota are interested in CRS. “Toyota in Bidadi has offered to provide the last link from the Bidadi station”. But he adds that he does see some traction in this regard within the next six months to one year. Mukund says it is sad that the Railway Budget did not include CRS to connect industrial towns near Bangalore while Kolkata Metro was given a lion’s share. He says there should be a separate Rail Secretariat for Metro, Mono and Commuter Rail. There should be integrated connectivity between CRS, Metro and Road transport, he adds.

Passenger trains double up as locals

Even as discussions and debates on CRS continue, for those who do use the rail for commute, it is hassle-free. K Ponappa Subbaiah, a resident of Richard’s Town, takes the Bangarpet Express at 7:20 AM every Saturday from Bangalore East to Whitefield where he teaches photography in a college. “I find it really convenient and a hassle-free alternative to going by road. I see many people taking this train to their places of work in Whitefield or KR Puram.”

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About Vaishnavi Vittal 139 Articles
Vaishnavi Vittal is a Bangalore-based journalist.

5 Comments

  1. As one visits the Website of BMLTA http://www.bmlta.org and go thru’ the meetings and sub committee meetings. Its found that SWR has consistently maintained that existing track system in Bangalore city is very much saturated & can not be spared for CRS system. I really appreciate the efforts of BMLTA on the CRS system to push lethargic SWR senior officers to give solution for running the CR, SWR has maintained stand against CRS since 2007 onwards in BMLTA all meetings. Senior officers of SWR has asked for seperate track to run CRS in Bangalore ( in this forum all of you know that their is under utilized track in many places in Bangalore )

    If any one goes thru’ the new trains introduced to West Bengal and Bihar in the last three years, SWR has given full importance to WB & Bihar. Example here is Duronto Express within one month of time started. Now its very much clear even State Govt wants to start CRS, SWR is not willing. Thier is heavy goods train movement on the northern Bangalore track even during the day time also.

    Its high time we all of us sit together and prepare petitions. I am ready to collect as much as information on the CRS. Even if required we need to file Public Interest Litigation ( PIL ) in High Court to get the SWR to start CRS in full service.

  2. It seems their is no will from Politicians to start CRS. We should file Public Interest Litigation in this regard in High Court so that matter is taken to Chief Minister.
    Its soory state that Mr Ashok ( Transport Minister ) is also from Bangalore.
    Let us unit all of us to fight for this CRS as METRO will not go to every point, it will start only in next 4 yrs & its costly comapared to CRS.
    As Minister of State for Railways K.H. Muniyappa is from Bangalore, he should co-ordinate with SWR, BBMP, BMTC & State goverment to get this started.
    I feel even Corporates willing to donate the money to start this.
    Its very ridiculas that State Government can not provide initially Rs 10 Crore to start CRS in Bangalore when they are spending huge money on Bridges, underpasses & road widening.

  3. I took the Marikuppam passenger from KR Puram to Cantonment the last 3 days as part of my morning commute. After traveling in crowded buses for the last 4 years it is delightful to travel in a passenger train where you get to sit near the window and take in the scenery. My travel lasts only 20 minutes but its worth it – but then how could a Rs.2 ticket not be a good deal 🙂

  4. Its a joke that the railways is making loss on the commuter network in Mumbai. We all know the kind of crowds that take the suburban trains. Mumbai suburban is called the Lifeline of Mumbai. Its a joke that the railways is undergoing loss. Its similar to what the BMTC (Its earlier avatar of B.T.S) used to state that they are undergoing loss. And all this with no competition and total monopoly over Bangalore’s public transport! I see a parallel between the two. IF THE RAILWAYS IS MAKING LOSS, LET THEM PRIVATISE IT.

  5. I wish Bengaluru to be lucky enough to get the CRS implemented. This helps a lot to the chaotic state of traffic everyday.

    At the same time, i am totally lost in the number of parties involved in the discussion; Railways, State Govt, and many number of committees. I wonder how transparent and effective will be the communication flow between these parties to take up timely decisions. And it is not very clear that who will eventually end up taking the responsibility of CRS.

    There are many “Khans” in Bengaluru looking forward for this service. But will have to wait and see how long it takes.

    The way you have collected the information by interviewing all the relevant parties and presenting them through this article is impressive. Good Luck!

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