Since ages, the residents of Bengaluru have been longing for an exclusive urban transit system. While this hasn’t materialized completely w.r.t the metro or suburban railway network yet, Bengaluru just keeps exploding when it comes to vehicles, traffic, population and IT companies. While everyone questioned why Bengaluru doesn’t have a suburban railway network unlike Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata etc, the Karnataka state- budget of 2013-14 had mentioned the approval for a suburban commuter rail system for Bengaluru.
The project (Phase 1A) had been delayed considerably and the State Cabinet has finally cleared the initial equity of Rs. 349 cr for starting the project. On Thursday, the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced that an estimated cost of Rs. 17,000 cr towards the Bengaluru metropolis. The new routes will be:
-KSR Bengaluru-Yesvantpur-Yelahanka-Chennasandra-Baiyappanahalli-KSR Bengaluru (45 km)
-Lottegolahalli-Hebbal-Banaswadi-Baiyappanahalli (15 km)
-Baiyappanahalli-Whitefield-Yesvantpur-Chikkabanavar-Nelamangala-Yelahanka-Rajankunte-Yelahanka-Devanahalli-KSR Bengaluru-Kengeri (100 Km)
The residents of Bengaluru are eagerly waiting for some change.
Respite from pollution and congestion
Gopinath who commutes daily from Mysore road to Whitefield says “If we want pollution to come down, the first thing to do is to reduce the usage of private vehicles. The suburban rail network will really help in the process.” Gopinath who has no choice but to use his car daily says that the minute the suburban rail is operational he shall stop using his car. In fact, he has already made plans to sell it off.
One can hope and pray that the suburban railway network will decongest the core areas of the city. Aditya Naregal, a native of Bengaluru who has been living in a rented apartment since 10 years says that he can finally move to his hometown. “My home is a far way in the suburbs and I used to find it very tough to commute but now with the connectivity from the suburbs to the city, I see hope. Similarly, I believe that this proposal will lead to several people like me opting to move out of the city. The rent we have to pay here is irrational and just keeps increasing year after year.” says Aditya
Currently staying in the suburbs doesn’t seem viable especially for those who have to shell out at least four hours daily just to go to the city and get back home. With the arrival of the railway network, the residential communities can shift base leaving the main city with some breathing space!
Bringing in a culture of public transport
The idea of a hassle-free travel across the city with smooth connections will be a dream come true for commuters here. Visualize this – Having a home somewhere on the outskirts, probably near the airport and reaching your office in Whitefield in about 40 to 45 minutes daily? Half the work to make this a reality is already done as the tracks and infrastructure for this is already in place. Gradually the usage of public transport will increase due to the sheer convenience factor. Dinesh Koluvailu a railway engineer says “Often we wonder how order and discipline are present in several countries such as Japan, Germany, and Switzerland. This can be credited to the well- planned network of trains that run from the city towards all other parts. Slowly these systems became the lifeline of the city and people made maximum use of it.”
Praja Raag (Research Analysis and Advocacy Group), a non-profit dedicated to research and advocacy work on local civic issues in the cities and state of Karnataka has been working towards getting the commuter rail operations for the past ten years. Initially, they saw a massive untapped potential in all the underused railway tracks and made a map of the city structure. They also studied how it is being used in other countries and based on that came up with the Praja Raag Call to Action Report. Later a campaign was held called the ‘Campaign for Commuter Rail’. A lot of conferences were held and they got in touch with the State Government and Indian Railways.
Praja Raag, later on, joined with the Citizens of Bengaluru (CfB) in their campaign “Chikku Bukku Beku”, an on-ground campaign where there was a mass mobilization of people. Several meetings with ministers, M.Ps and industrial bodies later, the Union Budget’s announcement is definitely something they have been waiting for.
Says Sathya Sankaran the co-founder of Praja Raag, “While we can celebrate and rejoice in the big step taken, the road ahead is long and a lot of elements have to be looked into. One can’t help but wonder if this decision has been made due to the upcoming elections. At present commuter rails aren’t given priority. A lot of factors have to come into play in order to make this a reality. Pricing, branding, scheduling and signaling are just a few.”
A lot of time and effort has gone into fighting for the suburban railway network to be actually implemented and operational. What seems to be a breath of relief now, is just the beginning. Anjali Saini who has been a part of the Whitefield Suburban Rail Group which comes under Whitefield Rising a platform that looks into several matters including pollution, governance, education, waste, garbage, lakes etc. says “ This has been taken lightly for the past ten years. The view is so myopic that till anything is actually done we can’t really trust the decision. Is this an election gimmick? We have been fighting for this and earlier got people in tech parks, blue collar workers etc. commit to the coaches and buy all the tickets when they declared the suburban railways as a loss-making entity. But how do you get people to take the train when it isn’t available at the time and place required by people? How can one hope to board a train when the last one is at 6 p.m? If a proper plan isn’t made it becomes a national loss.”
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