Suburban Rail for Bengaluru Finds Mention, But no Money
Bangalore: Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu has acknowledged the need for a suburban rail network for Bengaluru and allocated Karnataka Rs 2,779 crore in the budget, Rs 700 crore more than last year.
Without announcing any budgetary allocation for the suburban rail system, Prabhu said, “Bengaluru, the technology hub of the country, warrants a comprehensive suburban system. We will partner with the state government in this endeavour.”
A standing committee comprising eight officials under the chairmanship of the chief secretary has been constituted to take the project forward, said A K Gupta, Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Constructions, South Western Railway (SWR).
Briefing the media on Thursday, Gupta said, “The Railway Ministry had sent a letter on January 19 asking for such a Standing Committee for Integrated Transport Planning and it has been set up yesterday (Feb 24).” Other members of the committee are the general manager, SWR, principal secretaries of Finance, Law and Infrastructure Development, Commissionerate, Directorate of Urban Land Transport, CAO, SWR and chief executive officer of Karnataka Rail Infrastructure Development Corporation. “The total outlay for the state in the budget is a 19 per cent increase over that of the previous financial year (2015-2016) and double that of 2014-2015,” Gupta said.
Disappointment is writ large among the proponents of the suburban rail system. The ambiguous announcement by Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu that Bengaluru warranted a suburban rail system and they will explore this with the state government, has not convinced many
The Birur-Shimoga Doubling Line running into 60 km has been sanctioned in the budget at a cost of Rs 500 crore and Rs 18.93 crore allocated for the Netravati-Mangaluru Central Doubling line running to 1.5 km.
“Seven new projects have also been conceived in the budget, but will be executed on a joint venture basis with the state government,” the CAO informed.
They comprise a doubling line between Sakleshpur and Subramanyam at Rs 500 crore and six new lines between Nanjangud and Nilambur (236 km, Rs 6,000 crore); Mysuru-Kushalnagar (86 km, Rs 667 crore); Talagupa-Siddhapura (16 km, Rs 320 crore); Bangarpet-Mulbagal (40 km, Rs 800 crore); Talgupa-Honnavar (82 km, Rs 2,500 crore) and Dharwad-Belagavi (91 km, Rs 1,850 crore). “The standing committee will go into details on how to take these projects also forward,” the CAO added.
Electrification work running to a length of 189 km between Miraj and Londa has been sanctioned at a cost of Rs 208.15 crore.
Divisional Railway Manager, Bangalore Division, Sanjiv Agarwal said 12 new road over bridge/road under bridges have been announced for SWR with three ROBs slated to come up in the Bengaluru-Jolarpet division. “A sum of Rs 181 crore has been sanctioned for RUB/ROB in SWR for the new ones and ongoing work in over 100 such bridges.”
The Railway Budget also announced survey work to be undertaken to assess the feasibility of creating new lines along these three routes in the SWR division and sanctioned amount for it. They are Kalaburagi-Latur (148 kms, Rs 0.22 crore), Lokapur to Dharwar via Ramdurg, Sirsangi and Savadatii (95 kms, Rs 0.14 crore) and Dharwad-Belagavi (91 kms, Rs 0.14 crore).
BSTPA not convinced
Bengaluru Suburban Train Passengers Association organising secretary Mahesh Mahadevaiah, who had recently organised a hunger strike demanding a suburban railway network, said that unless the state and the Centre are on the same page, it is not likely to move ahead.
“Nothing much is going to come of this unless people come forward in larger numbers and demand a suburban rail. We are now going to take this forward by organising more strikes to draw the attention of the government. We will make effort to see there is some allocation in the next budget,” he said. However, the state government has constituted an eight-member standing committee to take the project forward.
Another proponent, Krishnaprasad, said modalities had to be worked out. “A similar statement was made in the budget presented by D V Sadananda Gowda in 2014. This looks like an eyewash. I think it will be clear only by April, if there is any concrete plan,” he said.
Sanjeev Dyamannanavar of advocacy group Praja, who has been pursuing the cause of commuter rail for several years now, is unhappy with the phrasing. “The Railway Minister could have allocated some amount for suburban rail or connected other allocations for improvements and infrastructure augmentation to ensuring faster implementation of the suburban rail. Though money allocated to Byappanahalli station and eliminating unmanned level crossings will eventually help suburban rail, a mention of it would have indicated they were serious about it,” he said.
Bengaluru’s citizens are certain they want suburban trains. Ashok C R, a private sector employee, said, “Just like Mumbai, there should be trains in Bengaluru too. The frequency must increase.”
what is needed to make suburban railway work
- Establishment of automatic signalling and elimination of level crossings
- Development of Byappanahalli terminal, which will reduce strain on Bangalore City station
- Commissioning of electrification on Yelahanka-Guntkal line and Bengaluru-Mysuru line
- Completion of remodelling of Yelahanka and Tumakuru stations
- Completion of works on establishing stabling and pit lines on Binny Mills land
- Doubling of Yeshwantpur-Hosur line
- MEMU maintenance shed at Banaswadi (work complete)
Five Reasons Why Bangalore City should have Suburban Rail
Will ease congestion
The ever-increasing density of vehicles has nullified the viability of widening roads. The two-to- three-hour commute on Whitefield, Hoodi and Marathahalli stretches has now become a part of urban lore. Suburban rail on the existing tracks can easily take a substantial burden off the roads entirely and cut travel time.
Can complement Metro
Transport needs of the city must be met with solutions that are both road and non-road based. In that, the suburban rail offers a perfect solution. The existing rail infrastructure needs to be only augmented to increase the services and need not be planned from scratch.
Easier for those from surrounding areas
Travellers from Kolar, Chikkaballapur, Tumakuru, Ramanagaram, Bangarpet, Hosur and even Mandya, all make their way to Bengaluru every day to earn a livelihood. Taking them off the roads and cutting their travel time will go a long way in decongesting highways and making their journey comfortable.
City is Expanding
Travelling from one end of Bengaluru to another has become a challenge that few would accept. While the Metro will provide connectivity to the four corners, the city’s borders have expanded well beyond these corners and it cannot come even close to the kind of connectivity and routes that the rail system can offer.
Cheaper than Metro
The suburban rail will be a considerably less expensive proposition for the state government than the Metro. For instance, Byappanahalli station will require two years of work and Rs.105 crore to turn it into a world class station. But, under Phase-2 of Metro, each station will cost at least Rs.300 crore.
First Rail’s Arms and Potters
Bengaluru’s first railway line ran from Bangalore Cantonment railway station. It started its operations in 1864 with the inauguration of Jolarpettai – Bangalore Cantonment branch line by the Madras Railway Company.
According to the City Railway Divisional office, eight years after the maiden run of the steam-engine train on the Southern Peninsula (between Chennai’s Royapuram and Wallajah Road) in 1856, Bengaluru found a place on the railway map of India.
It may also be of interest to note that, in the same year, Madras-Bangalore Mail started its run. According to the website of the Indian Railway Fans Club Association, in 1868, Madras Railway extended its network, with a new terminus at Royapuram, to Salem, and also finished the Jolarpettai – Bangalore Cantonment branch.
After 18 years of city’s first rail link, in 1882, the Madras Railway Company linked the Bangalore City station to Bangalore Cantonment.
In 1806, the British established the cantonment which became a centrally located military hub for the South.
Arun Prasad, historian and researcher, says, “There were good transport links to the Madras Presidency by road but no railway links.”
According to the historians, it was Sir Mark Cubbon who took the initiative to link the Madras Presidency with Bangalore by rail. He was the Chief Commissioner of Mysore State from 1834 to 1861.
Meera, co-convener of INTACH Bangalore, says,“The idea was enthusiastically received because Bangalore was an important military station. It felt important to link it to Madras.”
Prasad adds that the work on railway line began in 1859 during the tenure of Mark Cubbon but it was inaugurated in 1864 when L B Bowring was the Chief Commissioner of the Mysore State.
The station is located on the Higher Grounds, on the bunds of the Miller’s lake. Initially, it was used for military purposes. Prasad says, “It was used to transport arms and ammunitions and food grains for the army.”
Later, the service was open to general public as well. “Bengaluru then witnessed a huge influx of people from the other states. Tamil population started pouring in. The potters started settling here. That’s how the locality Pottery Town came into existence,” he says.
“According to Bowring himself, the town became the nucleus of trade of the whole country,” adds Meera.
In 1972, the foundation stone was laid by K Hanumanthaiya, who was then the minister of railways, for remodelling of the Cantonment railway station. Three years later, it was opened by D Devaraj Urs, the then chief minister of Karnataka.
The colonial style of architecture has wide spanned arches and rhythmically collonaded corridors. Colonial principles of harmony, symmetry and balance can be observed here, says Namita R, an architect. The brick structure has concrete column bases. The overhangs on the opposite platform is wooden slats with a centralised quatrefoil opening.
The station was built primarily with granite and stone and the arches adorn the beautiful stone columns. The monkey top (the wooden slats that drop from the roof), which was commonly added by the British in various structures, in strictly classical style was ideal for the Bangalore weather. It helped keep away the sunlight in summer and rains during the rainy season. The stone columns and arches still stand there. “The remains of the military godown stand as a testimony of the past era,” adds Arun.
P Narayan has been working as a pointsman at the Cantonment station for the past 30 years. He’s been manning the setting points (instruments to divert tracks), attaching or detaching engines or compartments from the train. He says, “Now, the work has increased as the number of trains has gone up to more than 50 a day. When I joined, there were more goods trains but now, there are more passenger trains.”
The porters are having it tough, losing customers to trolley bags.
Sadashivan has been working as a porter since 1994 here. “Now, even the children pull these bags and suitcases. We see them asking their parents for the bags. So, we don’t understand how to approach them. If we at least get what the rate card prescribes, we can make some earning,” he says. He also adds that the station is not being maintained well. “Many VIPs travel from this station. Still, it is not kept clean and neat. For example, there are no parking sheds,” he adds.
Absent to History
Most of the employees here are new, working here for a year or two, and have little or no idea of the Cantonment station’s history. The station master S A K Jeelani refused to comment, saying central government employees are not allowed to speak to the media.
The Cantonment Railway station was built and the first rail line was inaugurated
Foundation stone laid for remodelling
Station opened after remodelling
Computerised Passenger Reservation Centre inaugurated.
Electrification of Jolarpettai – Bangalore section Extension of Lines
Extension of Lines
The Madras Railway Company started the rail operations between Royapuram – Wallajah Road in 1856. The company had extended its operations to Kadalundi in 1861 and Calicut in 1888. The Jolarpet – Bangalore Cantonment section opened in 1864 and was extended to Bangalore City in 1882. By 1862, the railway extended up to Renigunta and the line was further extended to Raichur by 1871.
Integration of Rail Lines
After India’s independence, the railways were integrated into different zones. The Southern Railway Zone (9,654 route km) was the first to be formed on 14 April, 1952, after merging the Madras and Southern Mahratta, the South Indian and the Mysore State Railway. According to a brochure released by the South Western Railway to mark the golden jubilee of Southern Railway,
the amalgamation helped a great deal in streamlining and organising the railways.