Loan repayment the crux of Bangalore Suburban Rail problem: DVS

Karnataka Govt finally realises need for MEMU link to International Airport

BENGALURU: If all goes well, the city may take its first steps towards having a suburban rail on the lines of Mumbai in early 2018. Looks like the state government and railways have finally realised the need for connecting the international airport with a railway line. On Thursday, the state government agreed to fund a feasibility study for extending the existing South-Western Railway network coming under Bengaluru Division till the Kempegowda International Airport via Yelahanka.

The study will be conducted by the railways, providing a much needed boost to the demand for suburban railway network across the city. It was discussed that there is an existing railway line from Yelahanka to Chikkaballapur which passes below the trumpet interchange. Even a couple of trains take this route though no airport user can use it as of now because there is no station at the trumpet interachange and also there is no connectivity from there to the airport. So, the state government and the railways are now exploring the train option too.

On Thursday, Union minister of statistics and programme implementation D V Sadananda Gowda said four MEMU trains will be operated as suburban/local trains by December 2017. A meeting was held here on Thursday to discuss the bottlenecks that have been stalling the swift implementation of the suburban rail project that is estimated to cost around Rs 9,000 crore and to sort out the bickering between the state and the Centre over the project. The meeting was attended by all stakeholders of the suburban railways along with Bengaluru Development Minister KJ George and Union Minister DV Sadananda Gowda.

DV Sadananda Gowda said, “The department of urban and land transport (DULT) has already forwarded a detailed report on the formation of the special purpose vehicle for implementation of the suburban rail in the city and I along with the state government will pursue the issue with the Railway Board to ensure implementation of the project in the city.”

He further added, “To fast-track the project, efforts are being put in place to start four pairs of Mainline Multiple Electric Unit (MEMU) trains between Baiyappanahalli and Whitefield by December. Besides this, the construction of three platforms under the first phase of the Baiyappanahalli Coaching terminal will conclude by 2018 and later, construction of four platforms under the second phase will be taken up.”

However, Darpan Jain, commissioner of the directorate for urban land transport (DULT), said the new coaches will be available with the state government and Bengaluru division of South Western Railways (SWR) only by March 2018.

Gowda met Bengaluru in-charge minister K J George and officials from SWR, DULT and BMRC on Thursday to discuss the hurdles in implementing the project.

Recently, railway minister Suresh Prabhu had spoken of ‘technical difficulties’ in executing the SPV (special purpose vehicle) to implement the suburban rail project, much to the consternation of suburban rail activists.

But on Thursday, Gowda agreed to support the state and speed up coordination between the railway minister and state government. “Everybody in Karnataka and Bengaluru wants suburban rail to start functioning as early as possible. We are here to accelerate the project. We will finalize three of the proposals within a month. Formation of the SPV is one of the three, where the Centre will pay 20%, state 20% and avail loans for the rest. But the worry is who will replay the loans – the Centre or state? That is what it all boils down to.”

The state granted Rs 347 crore for replacing 30 DEMU trains with new MEMU ones, which is expected to be tendered shortly, and the estimated delivery is March 2018. “However, the SWR will float global tenders and ensure procurement happens on time. The new trains will have additional capacity of ferrying 30,000 more commuters,” said Jain.

The SWR plans to expand Byappanahalli railway station by three platforms in the first phase of making it a world-class station by December 2018, and will add four more platforms in the second phase. Also, SWR said that it has given many new suburban services in past six months: New services between Bengaluru and Ramanagra, Bengaluru-Whitefield and Bengaluru-Kuppam among other services.

However, during the meeting, no consensus was reached on full-fledged implementation of the suburban railway network as funding still remain the bone of contention between the state and the Centre. Bengaluru Development Minister KJ George said all the stakeholders agree on the funding pattern, but in that, 60% of the project cost is to be raised through bank loans, and still there is confusion as to which party will repay the loans. A proposal of building a suburban rail link between Yeshwantpur to Kempegowda International Airport via Yelahanka was discussed and the state government offered to fund the feasibility test and report.

Acquisition of land for the project between Yesvantpur to Yelahanka will be tough, minister Sadananda Gowda conceded. The study will be funded by the state government and carried out in consultation with the Railways, he added.

Gowda, Bengaluru Development Minister KJ George and top officials of the Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT) and Railways met on Thursday to discuss fast-tracking of suburban rail, as suggested by Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu.

Darpan Jain, Commissioner, DULT said, “We had already done a preliminary study on connecting Bengaluru City (Krantiveera Sangolli Rayanna station) with the airport by passing through two different routes: via the Yesvantpur and Baiyappanahalli railway stations.”

However, the Railways said it was not possible to offer any more services from KSR station as it was already saturated, he said. “We are now looking at connectivity to the airport from Yesvantpur. A detailed feasibility study will be conducted this time.”

About the time frame, Jain said, “It is all at the initial stage.It is too early to give any deadline as there are many factors involved in completing it.”

“The railway line between Yelahanka and KIA needs to be electrified and the railway track has to be doubled if we want to run trains to the airport,” he added. MP of Bengaluru Central, P C Mohan, said, “There are problems of land acquisition from Yesvantpur to Yelahanka but not between Yelahanka and the airport.”

If the process is hastened, it remains to be seen if there is a possibility of the city getting connected to the airport via the rail route quicker than the Metro. BMRCL plans connectivity to the Kempe Gowda airport via Nagwara, R K Hegde Nagar, Jakkur and Yelahanka (Phase-2A) by 2020.