Finally, some traction for Namma Railu

For Bengalureans the fight for a suburban rail began in 1983. Now after more than three decades the Centre has finally included it in the Railway budget. Though city residents are relieved to see the suburban train network finally getting acknowledged and Rs 12,061 crores been sanctioned for the project, they are upset with the token allocation of mere Rs 1 crore. The move for a double line up to Hosur has also brought cheer to many. The onus now lies with the state government and Railways to make these projects a reality and ease commuters’ woes, reports Ranjani Madhavan.

What does it mean for Bengaluru? 
Bengalureans, who are only now beginning to enjoy the Metro Rail, which is finally taking shape after many a hiccup,   have another reason to cheer : the Suburban Rail, which promises to take more traffic off the city’s congested roads has finally received the Centre's okay. First conceptualised in 1983 when the city’s traffic was nowhere near what it is today , it has taken over two decades for the project to get the approval it needs to take off.     

With full scale Metro connectivity likely to take a while, the Suburban Rail, which will use the  available railway infrastructure, could provide  the city’s working population a quicker way out of the traffic jams on the roads as it will connect the IT Corridor to the Outer Ring Road  near the notorious KR Puram-Silk Board junction, Baiyappanahalli, Whitefield, Karmelram, Bellandur, Hoodi and surrounding areas,. 

Mr Krishna Prasad, member of the Karnataka Railway Vedike, is jubilant that with the project’s inclusion in the Railway Budget,  track doubling in some  important locations of the city has received a shot in the arm. “For instance, the budget has approved doubling of track between Baiyyappannahall and Hosur (48 kms) at a cost of 375.67 crore, between Yeshwantpur and Channasandra (21.7 kms) at a cost of Rs 169.65 crore and Pennukonda and Dharmavaram (41.5 kms) at a cost of Rs 294.67 crore. This amounts to a generous `840 crore for doubling in Karnataka,” he notes. 

Welcoming the automatic signalling, which has received the green light as part of the project and will take Rs 12 crore to execute, Mr Prasad says it  will help faster clearance of trains from stations and reduce the interference of the station master, who would otherwise have had to co-ordinate with staff from other stations. “ The allocated amount this year is around Rs 4.4 crore,  which is not enough, but by next year, we should receive the whole amount," he adds.

The activist is  all for the electrification of the 989 kms of track, which  will cost  Rs 919.44 crore to execute, as he believes it will make way for a more sustainable transport system and reduce the dependence on diesel for running of trains.

As for the Baiyappanahalli coaching terminal, he says the Rs 45 crore sanctioned this year will be useful for the construction work, but any delay could push the cost to Rs 116 crore.

But Mr Prasad is unhappy with the Rs 1 crore allocated out of the sanctioned Rs 6,030 crore by the Railways as this will merely take care of the initial leg of the project. “To create a Special Purpose Vehicle, hire employees and so on will require  a lot more money. If Rs 50 crore had been allocated it would have shown the seriousness of the Centre in implementing the project,” he argues, also unhappy with the lack of clarity on its execution.

There is no word yet on where and how the elevated Suburban Rail corridor is being planned,” he points out, wondering why  a meagre sum has been allocated for the quadrapling of the Cantonment-Whitefield line when a survey conducted by the South Western Railway has given it the thumbs up.

Bengaluru Suburban Rail Budget highlights
1. Cantonment-Whitefield Automatic Signalling: Sanctioned Rs 12 crores and allocated Rs 4.4 crores
2. Baiyappanahalli Coaching terminal:  Sanctioned Rs 116 crores and allocated Rs 45 crores
3. SWR new works for development, yard remodelling, stabling lines: Sanctioned Rs 250 crores and allocated Rs 6 crores
4. Yeshwanthpur- Channa sandra Doubling (21.7 kms):  Sanctioned Rs 169 cr and allocated Rs 10 lakhs
5. Baiyappanahalli- Hosur Doubling (48 kms) : Sanctioned Rs 375 cr and allocated Rs 10 lakhs
6. Penukonda- Dharmavaram Doubling (41.5 kms)- Sanctioned Rs 294 cr and allocated Rs 10 lakhs 

The finances proposed
January 31, 2018
Rs 349 crores allocated by Karnataka government for 2018-2019. Remaining Rs 349 crore will be given for 2019-2020. Total estimate : Rs 10,929 crore.
February 1, 2018 
Rs 17,000 crore announced by Centre in Budget
February 6, 2018
Rs 12,061 crore investment  proposed. Rs 6,030 crore to be invested by Railways. Rs 1 crore allocated for 2018-2019.

Doubling of tracks to ease road congestion, benefit techies 
While commuters in general will benefit from the Suburban Rail, it will be of particular help to employees of  the 2500 odd big and small software companies dotting its route .

Railway enthusiast and software professional, Suhas Narayan Murthy, observes that  ITPL is around 5.4 kms from Whitefield Railway station and SAP , 6.6 kms from Hoodi station. “A lot of the techies already rely on trains to reach their companies in Bellandur, Mahadevpura, Whitefield, Karmelam and Heelalige,” he notes.

 And once the doubling and electrification of the tracks   is complete for the Suburban Rail, people, who travel from the IT corridor to their homes in the city, could have their journey cut from two hours to 20 minutes, he observes.  

It's now upto the state government and the Railways to take the first step and form a Special Purpose Vehicle ( SPV) for its execution, say activists.

Ask Mr E Vijaya, Deputy General Manager and CPRO of South Western Railway, about the status of the  project, and he says the Railways has written to the Karnataka government proposing a 50:50 cost sharing of the Bengaluru Suburban Rail. “Once the government gives it  approval, a Special Purpose Vehicle will be formed to come out with the Detailed Project Report,” he explains. 

As for the state’s responsibility in making the project a reality, Additional Chief Secretary, Urban Development Department, Mahendra Jain says it is prepared to match the Railways in funds for the formation of the Special Purpose Vehicle. “Although Rs 6,030 crores is supposed to be their share, only Rs 1 crore has been allocated in this budget. Once they release the  full funds, the state’s Rs 1745 crore will be invested immediately,” he assures.

The state Cabinet recently cleared an allotment of  Rs 10,929 crore for the project. Of this amount, Rs 349 crore was sanctioned for the current year from the Rs 1,745 crore to be released for the next two financial years.

Guest column: Basic design of elevated corridor still not clear, says Sanjeev Dyamnavar, Praaja RAAG advocacy group
This is the first time that the Railway Ministry has included the Bengaluru Suburban Rail in its budget on a 50:50 cost sharing basis. This means Karnataka and the Railways will have to pitch in Rs 6,030 crore each for the project.

The next step is to fast-track the formation of the Special Purpose Vehicle. The Centre could have allocated at least Rs 10 crore for the Suburban Rail instead of a token Rs 1 crore. But this may be because the SPV is still to be formed and the Detailed Project Report still to be prepared. Using the amount given, the Railways should be able to draw up the DPR and call for tenders.  

It has, however, not revealed the basic design of the elevated rail corridor when a separate document should have been released on it along with the budget. What we do know is that the Railways want to decongest the KSR Railway station (Majestic) and make it a passing station instead of a terminal

Allocation of Rs 45 crore this year and  Rs 32 crore last year, out of the estimated Rs 116 crore required for the Baiyappanahalli Coaching terminal is welcome and will ensure its partial completion by March 2019. The Jnanabharathi station needs to be also developed as a terminal so that more suburban trains can pass through KSR.

Karnataka is  responsible for transferring of land parcels to the Railways, including 30 acres at Jnanabharathi and 40 acres of NGEF land near Baiyappanahalli. Land is available for expansion with the Railways at Nayandahalli Station as well. 

So it’s time the Urban Development Department and DULT sat together and discussed their share of fund allocation and the creation of a separate department to oversee the project.

Doubling has received a sanction of Rs 545 crore for the Yeshwanthpur-Channasandra and Baiyappanahalli- Hosur lines.  If this had been included in last year's budget, Rs 20 crore would have reached us by this year. And despite the survey, quadrupling of the Cantonment-Whitefield line has not been cleared. They have given Rs 250 crores for station development but not mentioned which stations will benefit. 

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