Chennai, Feb. 27: Mamata Banerjee’s much touted Railway Budget, 2011, presented on February 25 has made way for the city’s suburban network to get a much needed boost. A single integrated system would be developed to help people switch trains in suburban areas, Metro Rail and Mass Rapid Transit System (MRTS) services.
The budget also promises to increase the frequency of suburban train services, especially on the significant but neglected Chennai-Gummidipoondi and Tiruvallur sectors. Gauge conversion works have been sanctioned for the Tambaram-Chengalpet section, and Chengalpet-Villupuram line would be doubled. This will help in the introduction of more suburban trains.
New services are poised to be commissioned on the Chennai Beach-Gummidipoondi, Gummidipoondi-Chennai Central, Avadi-Chennai Beach, Chennai Central-Tiruvallur, Tiruvallur-Chennai Central and Chennai Beach-Tambaram-Chengalpet sectors.
While fresh suburban services would substantially help commuters during the peak hours, the gauge conversion works proposed to be completed between Tambaram and Chengalpet will help add more suburban services to aid commuters headed to the fast-developing industrial areas in Potheri, Paranur and others, a senior official from railways confirmed.
He said that these works were crucial to augment suburban services adding “we are not being able to increase suburban services beyond Tambaram subject to constraints in infrastructure.” The budget has also sanctioned a survey for a new line to Sriperumbudur, which would connect Irungattukottai and Avadi. “This is a long-pending demand for connectivity as Sriperumbudur is a rapidly-growing industrial region and a line should be laid before the entire area is developed,” he added.
The entire concept of an integrated suburban network, which is largely being considered as a prelude to taking off suburban operations from the railways and creating a separate entity like the Mumbai Rail Vikas Corporation, is set to be operational in Chennai within a short span of time. Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad have suburban systems, which, the budget said, would be converted into separate functional organisations in the near future.
“We had approved the integration plan long time back. This is being included in the budget so that suburban networks can be integrated with Metro Rail. But there is no immediate plan to bring the suburban system under a separate body,” said a railway official on condition of anonymity.
He added, “Bringing suburban system under a separate entity, like in Mumbai, will help ensure better development because funds can then be sanctioned exclusively for suburban expansion and development.”
Many commuters in the city whole-heartedly welcomed the budget announcements. “The new trains should be introduced during the peak hours,” said V Mahalingam, a frequent traveller on the Chennai-Tiruvallur line. However, J Stephen, who regularly hops between Chengalpet and Chennai, said that the budget should have focused extensively on improving the existing amenities at all suburban stations in addition to those on the trains.
However, in addition to jubilation, there were disappointments as well. Although Tamil Nadu may have got nine new trains, expectations of long distance travelers remain unfulfilled even this time. Bureaucratic potholes and constraints to generate enough revenue came in the way of introducing long distance trains through different zones. Except the Dwarka-Tuticorin Express, which was a welcome break, none of the other new trains connects Tamil Nadu to Western India. Also no train from Chennai has been introduced to south Tamil Nadu via Rajapalayam or Sankarankoil.
“We are disappointed. The train to Dwarka will not help much because we will have to board another train for Rajasthan. We expected the bi-weekly Chennai-Jodhpur train to be converted into a daily service,” said one of the officials of TN Rajasthan Pravasi Ekta Sangh.
“The Coimbatore-Jodhpur train, which was sanctioned when Lalu Prasad Yadav was the railway minister is yet to be introduced. The current budget is good because the fares have remained the same. But more trains should have been sanctioned to Rajasthan,” said one of the zonal railway users consultative committee members.
Railway officials say that operating a long distance train across different zones is an uphill task. “We have been suggesting trains to Rajasthan and other northern states every year. But in most cases, other zones do not agree because they have to provide a pathway for the train,” said a senior officer from the railways. The lines would also be congested at different stretches enroute. However, objections could be overcome if the railway minister insisted, officials said.
The need to maximize revenue also comes in the way of operating fresh trains across different zones. “Once a train moves out of a zone the revenue from booked tickets will get distributed among the respective zones. Officials are keen on trains operating within their zone so that revenue will not be split,” said another railway official.
While passengers to Madurai, which has got a non-stop train from Chennai, are happy, others are pretty disappointed.