D V Sadananda Gowda, Minister of Railways, also the Member of Parliament elected from Bangalore North, gifted the city of Bengaluru many trains that will boost suburban connectivity. The move has cheered up the advocates of Commuter Railway in Bangalore.
In his maiden Union Railway Budget, Railway Minister Sadananda Gowda announced a list of five Jansadharan trains, 5 premium trains, 6 AC express trains, 27 express trains, 8 passenger trains, 2 MEMU services and 5 DEMU services. Among these, Bangalore and surrounding areas got the following trains:
- Kamakhya – Bengaluru Premium Express
- Bengaluru – Mangalore Express (daily)
- Bengaluru – Shimoga Express (bi-weekly)
- Ramnagar – Agra Express (weekly)
- Tatanagar – Baiyappanahali (Bengaluru) Express (weekly)
- Yeshwantpur – Tumkur Passenger (daily)
- Bengaluru – Ramanagaram 6 days a week (Mainline Electrical Multiple Unit, 3 pairs)
- Bengaluru – Nelamangala (Mainline Electrical Multiple Unit, daily)
- Yeshwantpur- Hosur (Diesel Electrical Multiple Unit, 6 days a week)
Out of these, the last four trains cater to some of the routes proposed by the Commuter Railway advocates. The frequency of the trains are unknown at this juncture; however, it will be useful to a lot of people living or working in the outskirts of Bangalore. A lot of advocacy has gone into convincing the state and central governments about the introduction of commuter railways.
The Karnataka government has already announced in the budget that Bangalore Suburban Rail Corporation Limited will be formed to take care of the operations of commuter railways. Now Detailed Project Reports are being prepared by Directorate of Land and Urban Transport (DULT) for Bangalore-Ramangaram and Bangalore-Malur lines. The step of the Central government introducing new trains is being seen as a small positive step by the advocates of commuter railways.
However, in his speech, Sadananda Gowda did not mention the details of the work done already by the state on Commuter Railways.
Who will benefit?
The Bangalore – Ramnagar line will benefit all those who need to go towards industrial areas and institutions on Mysore Road, upto Ramnagar. Double track and electrification have beeen completed on this track. The new train that will run thrice a day will help decongest the road traffic.
Yeshwanthpur – Tumkur passenger service is going to benefit the daily commuters and those who want to reach areas like Dabaspet which are being developed as industrial hubs. Similarly Bangalore – Nelamangala route is already double track, hence the to-and-fro train will help offload the road traffic.
The daily passenger from Yeshwanthpur to Hosur will enable people to commute from West Bangalore to eastern parts and Tamilnadu in relatively short time, without entering the hustle-bustle of the city. This will also help people who have their offices in Sarjapur Road and Baiyappanahalli area, as the train will pass through Hebbal, Banaswadi, Baiyappanahalli, Carmelram and Anekal.
Bullet and high-speed trains to be promoted
Sadananda Gowda also mooted the dream-project of this government, the Diamond Quadrilateral Network of High Speed Rail, and allotted Rs 100 crore for taking further steps. He also proposed to increase the speed for existing trains by upgrading the present network, in select sectors, in which the Mysore-Bengaluru-Chennai sector got featured.
He underlined the necessity for better connectivity of Bengaluru City with its suburban areas and hinterland. “Study to explore possibility of enhancing the existing IR network of Bengaluru for meeting the above need will be taken up,” he said, adding that Baiyappanahalli will be developed as a coaching terminal to cater to the demand of passenger traffic in Bengaluru area.
Other budget highlights:
Private participation to get a boost
Calling railways a microcosm of India on the move, Sadananda Gowda explained the challenges before the Railways in reaching unconnected areas and the financial implications. He added that the Railways was “expected to earn like a commercial enterprise but serve like a welfare organization. These two objectives are like two rails of the railway track, which though travel together but never meet.”
The well-framed Railway budget speech woven with appropriate phrases and quotes projected that the Railways was under severe financial crisis and spent 94 paise out of every 100 paise earned, and lacked resources to scale up and achieve aspirational objectives.
As alternate means of resource mobilisation, Gowda proposed to leverage railway PSU resources, encourage private investment in rail infrastructure through Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and domestic investments, as well as public-private partnerships.
Cleanliness and modernisation prioritised
The budget projected an expected revenue of Rupees 1,64,374 crore, while total expenditure was at Rupees 1,49,176 crore. Providing foot-over bridges, escalators and lifts at all major stations, sufficient water supply, platform shelters and toilets at the railway stations, PCs on payment basis for business travellers, expansion of online booking to cover train-booking and coach-booking, etc were on the list of priorities.
Sadananda Gowda proposed to provide pre-cooked (ready-to-eat) meals of reputed brands in a phased manner in Railways, clubbed with feedback on the quality of the food served. He stressed the need to ensure cleanliness in railway coaches and stations, and to set up a separate housekeeping wing for the purpose.
Other measures proposed were:
- Extension of bio-toilets to avoid direct discharge of human waste on the tracks
- Encouraging corporates to adopt stations and provide potable drinking water.
- Revamping the Railway Reservation System to enable ticket booking through mobile phones and through post offices
- Improving the system capabilities in e-ticketing to support 7200 tickets per minute as against 2000 tickets per minute now
- Allowing 1,20,000 simultaneous users at any point in time
- Facility of Coin Operated Automatic Ticket Vending Machines (on experimentation basis)
- Option to buy platform tickets and unreserved tickets over the Internet
- Launch of parking-cum-platform Combo Tickets
GIS mapping of railway lands
The move to map railway lands on GIS is going to be important. Allowing private operators to develop railway lands commercially to increase revenue for railways as well as protect the land from encroachers is an important step that has the capacity to get many takers in land-starved Bangalore city.
While on the starting day of the budget session, Rajeev Gowda, newly elected Rajya Sabha MP from Bangalore had made news by taking his oath in Kannada, on Railway budget day it was Sadananda Gowda who made Kannada linger again in the Parliament. Before ending his phrasy Railway Budget speech, he recited a poem written by famous Kannada poet D V Gundappa, called Mankutimmana Kagga, to communicate that he was presenting what he thought was right and that he was open to criticism.
The poem could be translated thus:
“It is not that after reading this book,
there will be no more doubts.
It is not that what we believe today
will hold up forever.
If someone points at some shortcoming,
I have an open mind to correct.
But for now, I believe this is right.”
Sadananda Gowda discouraged the demand for extra stops by people, saying that “too many stoppages result in slowing down of trains and increase the travel time particularly for long distance passengers. If this trend continues, most of our express trains will become passenger trains.” He said the Railway will provide alternative trains to meet the genuine demands of the public.
“Existing extra stoppages will be reviewed solely on the basis of operational feasibility and commercial justification. Demand for new stoppages hereafter will also be considered on the same criteria,” he added.
‘Small beginning on the Commuter Railways front’
Sanjay Vijayaraghavan, a software engineer in the city who is also an advocate of Suburban Railways for Bangalore, has this to say: “Glad to see at least a mention of commuter rail in the budget. He (the Minister) has announced some services to Ramnagara and Nelamangala which is good. It is a sort of a small beginning, the way I see it. We need Government of Karnataka and Government of India to work together.”
Sridhar Pabbisetty, an urban governance expert, says that ministers should look beyond their regional affiliations. “It’s time we buried this tradition of short term focused homerun. CRS as a policy should be given more impetus not just in Bangalore, but all other such cities. Nevertheless, it’s a small step on CRS in the right direction,” he adds.
On bullet trains and stress on private participations, Sridhar Pabbisetty has a cautious take. “If only current PPPs and FDIs are made to work as per agreed terms and SLAs we can embark on newer engagements. They are no magic bullets. Maybe government action on gas pricing will show the intent on making PPPs work for people and the nation.” He adds that the Bullet Train is a pipe dream, given how the track doubling between Bangalore and Mysore is floundering.