Kochi: Welcome to Kochi Metro that is changing the landscape of the city beyond recognition led by ‘Metro Superman’ E Sreedharan, 83, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, Kochi Metro Rail Limited and the Kerala government. Till three years ago, Kochi was identified with Chinese nets and placid backwaters, but now it has a new icon: the Metro corridor running high above the citizens’ heads along the 18-km first reach from Aluva to Maharaja’s college ground through which trains are scheduled to roll along from June 2016. When the French-built gleaming coaches make their appearance finally, they are guaranteed to provide a world-class travelling experience for Kochiites, nay the entire Keralites in fact.
This will be in contrast to their experiences so far, which have been very local and almost brutal: the red killer buses driven by the most undisciplined drivers in the world through potholed roads and causing a high number of accidents; unwary passengers being robbed of their valuables by pickpockets in the huge rush; women subjected to harassment; bikes and cars going on the rampage through congested roads; pedestrians getting knocked down and autorickshaws running without meters and overcharging. All these would hopefully be a thing of the past by June next year when, as promised by Sreedharan, Kochi Metro trains will run, bringing in comfort, convenience and reliability. When the rigs started digging deep into the Kochi soil for pile foundations in June 2013, Kochiites couldn’t have imagined such dramatic changes so rapidly in their surroundings. Sreedharan and Kochi Metro are set to rewrite the national record by finishing the work within three years after its launch, the fastest for any metro. The Chennai Metro took six years to complete the 10-km stretch, Delhi Metro four years for the 8.5-km stretch and Bangalore six years for the first six-km route.
Chief Minister Oommen Chandy had entrusted the work with Sreedharan and the DMRC against all opposition, just like he has done in the case of Vizhinjam port project now, which will be executed by Modi-friend Adani.
Neither hartals and rains nor other umpteen hurdles, including land acquisition issues, prevented the Metro from racing ahead. The old landmarks have given way to new ones, roads have been widened, new bridges built and obstructing buildings pulled down to pave way for the metro corridor. The Metro has actually become a people’s movement and the citizens have put up with all the inconveniences of rebuilding and reconstruction, traffic jams and diversions in the wake of the 25-km, Rs 5,200-crore mega project going full steam. Also, even the militant local labour have abandoned their negative attitude, though there are scarcely any Malayali workers carrying out the work. They gaze at the tall and mighty pillars coming up fast and the huge piers and girders being mounted overnight with effortless ease by contract companies’ men who go about their work with military precision and discipline alien to the Malayali work culture.
Those who have travelled in metros in major cities like Dubai, London or Delhi know what make them world-class. The spotlessly clean and air-conditioned coaches are inviting and there is no feeling of rush or exhaustion. Most city dwellers prefer the metro, which in Dubai presents a colourful microcosm of the world with different nationalities rubbing shoulders with each other. There are no hassles involved in buying tickets, boarding or alighting, and checking is automated at the entry itself with no conductors and cleaners breathing down your neck, like in Kochi buses.
That Kochiites have already imbibed the Metro spirit is quite evident from a poster that appeared on the sidewall of the north overbridge built by the DMRC a year ago. It said, “This is the symbol of modern Kochi, don’t dirty this area with graffiti.” Nevertheless, the notice was pasted not by the DMRC, but by Youth Congress men