It is the beginning of a long weekend. You leave your office at 7 pm in Electronics City with a bid to catch the 9 pm train at KR Puram railway station. The cab picks you up right on time and you zip on the elevated highway to reach silk board in 15 minutes. However, there is a huge pile up at Silk Board and you are forced to spend 20 minutes at this junction. It is 7.35 pm and you start getting worried as to whether you would be able to reach the station on time. Moreover, the train stops at this junction only for 10 minutes.
The cab wades through the confusion and more hurdles are experienced at HSR, Agara, Iblur, Bellandur and Devarabeesanahalli junctions. There is a delay at every junction. It is close to 8.20 pm. You cross Marathahalli and hope that there are no more delays. There is a delay again at Doddanekundi junction. By 8.40 pm you are a kilometer away and the destination is so near yet so far.
The car trudges along and you find that there is a horrible jam at the Old Madras Road and Outer Ring Road junction. It is 8.50 pm. You get off the cab; pay the driver, wade through traffic and finally reach the station at 8.57 pm. You have managed to beat the traffic and you feel you have won a major battle. You are about to say your prayers, when you realise that your train to Kerala has just arrived.
This could have been avoided had there been a railway terminal near to Electronic City, which would have benefited all areas such as Jayanagar, JP Nagar, Padmanabhanagar and Madivala. The connectivity to KR Puram station is quite bad as there is not enough bus connectivity and cab drivers either refuse to travel or demand extra money. The security issues at this station remain unaddressed. Not all trains stop at these stations as infrastructure issues such as length of the platforms have not been considered.
A robust rail network can help ease traffic
One of the reasons for the above-said situation is the abysmally poor rail infrastructure in Karnataka. The number of trains leading to tourist spots outside Bengaluru can’t be increased because of this reason. Karnataka has just 5% of its lines doubled and electrified. Compare this to states like Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, which have 48% and 51% of their rail tracks electrified. While it may take long before the lines are doubled and electrified, there is a way by which we could reduce the anxiety of people travelling through this area.
The former Railway Minister Sadananda Gowda in his budgetary address announced that Baiyappanahalli station in East Bengaluru would soon be developed as a coaching terminal in addition to the existing ones at Majestic and Yeshwanthpur. It would have been useful, had Gowda had also taken into account the need for a railway terminal in South Bengaluru.
South Bengaluru has no rail network
The Lok Sabha Constituency of Bengaluru South has a population close to 20 lakhs. However, a majority of the areas in this constituency do not have a rail network. Areas in this constituency such as Jayanagar, JP Nagar, Basavanagudi, BTM Layout, Koramangala, Padmanabhanagar and Banashankari are quite a distance away from any railway terminal.
If one were to consider the assembly constituencies of Basavanagudi, Padmanabha Nagar, BTM Layout, Jayanagar, Bommanahalli and Bengaluru South as a standalone urban conurbation, it would probably be the only urban area with no rail network to boast of. This means a city, which has the population of Mysore and Hubli put together has no rail network neither a railway terminal to serve it. The result is, chaos on the roads leading up to Majestic. It only gets worse on a long weekend.
The Krishna Deva Raya station and Nayandahalli station are the two stations located in Bengaluru South Lok Sabha constituency. Even though these stations are located in Bengaluru South Lok Sabha constituency, they are actually closer to the Western parts of the city and helpful to people only if they are travelling to Mysore, since these are not junctions like K R Puram or Byappanahalli.
Bengaluru Rural Loksabha constituency also has Anekal and Bengaluru South assembly constituencies, which together have a population of more than 8 lakhs. Bengaluru South assembly constituency consists some of the newer areas such as Subramanyapura, Vasanthapura, Uttarahalli, Gottigere, Arekere etc. While Anekal has Anekal Road and Heelalige railway stations, Bengaluru South assembly constituency has no such luck with railway lines or stations. The South-Western part of the city has Rajarajeshwari Nagar and Kengeri areas. These are located by the side of the main Bengaluru-Mysore Line. The Bengaluru University railway station is located in Rajarajeshwari Nagar while the Kengeri railway station is located in Kengeri.
Kunal Doddanavar, a resident of South Bengaluru and a rail enthusiast is of the view that all the stations on Bengaluru-Mysore stretch i.e. Jnanabharathi, Nayandahalli and Krishnadevaraya (Vijayanagar) need to be developed. Development of these stations could definitely help the residents of South Bengaluru, but concentration of terminals in the same direction could lead to these areas becoming congested. In a scenario like this, it makes sense to develop terminals in different directions of the city. While the South-western Railway’s decision to set up Krishnadevaraya station at Vijayanagar is sensible, the station is still bereft of basic facilities such as platforms.
Kiran Bindu, a longtime resident of Basavangudi, opines that he finds it surprising that railways have not given any serious thought into developing a terminal in South Bengaluru. He says, “Jnanabharathi and Anekal Town railway stations need to be developed as terminals for Mysore-bound and Kerala-bound trains. I hope they also run a few local trains on the Mysore and Hosur lines. This could effectively reduce traffic congestion on Mysore road and Hosur Road.”
The central silk board junction sees about 20,000 PCU (Passenger Car Units) during peak hours. The PCU on the Bengaluru-Mysore road between Bengaluru University Gate and Mysore was as high as 23,000 three years ago, going up to 68,000 on long weekends. Surely, a case for suburban rail exists on these two lines.
What Bengaluru could learn from Hyderabad
Bengaluru could also take a cue or two from Hyderabad, where South Central railway is looking at establishing railway terminals on the city’s outskirts. Four new rail passenger terminals at Moula Ali, Medchal, Umdanagar/Shamshabad and Edulanagulapalle, on the city outskirts have been proposed to meet the rising demand of inter-city rail operations in coming decades. Hyderabad is also helped by the fact that it has a fully functional suburban rail system in place.
A right step in this direction has been taken by SWR by undertaking expansion work at Yelahanka. Work on Byappanahalli terminal is also likely to start in a few months. Unfortunately, no such plan has been made for South Bengaluru. South Bengaluru has no junction, which could be developed as a coaching terminal. Therefore, it is necessary that multiple terminals are built in South Bengaluru.
Solutions – long term and short term
If Jnanabharathi and Anekal Town/ Heelige railway stations are developed as coaching terminals, Jnanabharathi could be used to run trains to Mysore while Anekal Town/ Heelige could be used to run trains to Southern parts of the country. These stations offer enough scope for expansion because of the easy availability of land unlike Nayandahalli or Kengeri, which sit in the middle of thickly populated areas.
Balasubramanian Thirunkavarasu, a resident of HSR layout, feels that Anekal Town railway station ideally needs to be developed as a railway terminal. He also feels that the government should start diesel trains on the Bengaluru-Hosur line to reduce some of the traffic congestion on Hosur Road.
Sanjeev Dyammannavar, founder of Praja, opines that transport in Bengaluru needs to become truly multi-modal. Along with adequate lighting and policing at Jnanabharathi, parking facilities also need to be provided. The station lies on the main Mysore road and in close proximity to the proposed Metro station.
Another way to link the areas of South Bengaluru with a railway line would be to expedite work on the Anekal-Bidadi line. It is important that in both these cases the lines are linked to Metro and BMTC so that transport could be multi-nodal.
There also needs to be a basic suburban rail system in place to address the issue of connectivity to these terminals. Railways and the state government need to explore the option of running trains from Anekal to other commuter towns such as Ramanagara, Tumkur, Chikkaballapur and Doddaballapur.
The state government and railways of late have been mulling the option of a commuter rail system from Byappanahalli and Yeshwanthpur to the airport via Yelahanka. A train to Yelahanka from Anekal Town/ Hosur shall address the transport woes related to the airport as well. There could be frequent trains at an interval of 15 -20 minutes if the line between Anekal and Bengaluru was doubled. Connectivity to these stations from nearby localities needs to be addressed through shuttle buses. Metro could provide connectivity to some of these stations such as Jnanabharathi. Any move to establish these terminals without addressing the connectivity issues would be a futile exercise.