Monday, September 21, 2009

Going off track

There are several drawbacks to the Kochi Metro Rail project. A look at some of them

By Shevlin Sebastian

“There will be 578 pillars from Aluva to Petta for the 25 km-long Metro Rail project,” says concerned citizen Paul Vithayathil. Each pillar will have a width of 8 feet.

According to the Detailed Project Report (DPR) prepared by the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), the workers will need an area of 26 feet to work around each pillar. Unfortunately, the roads of Kochi are not that broad. The maximum width is 45 feet. On MG Road, it is only 30 feet.

A senior Kochi-based DMRC official, T.R. Bakshi (name changed) says, “For safety and to provide space for the hydraulic rotary rig, we will occupy a total of 18 feet, and not 26 feet on either side of the pillar,” he says. “When the work is taken up on MG Road heavy vehicles will use Chittoor Road and the Pullepady level crossing. Light vehicles will continue to use MG Road.”

Vithayathil says it will be difficult for cars to move on MG Road. “The excavated mud will be dumped on the sides and the roads will become even narrower,” says Paul.
“Once work begins, only auto-rickshaws and two-wheelers will be able to ply.”

So, is the Metro Rail Project good for Kochi?

According to the DPR, each ticket will be four to fives times higher than the bus fares. “Who will be able to afford that?” says businessman Soney Mathew. “Surely, it is not the common man. They will continue to avail of cheaper alternatives like buses.”

Bakshi seems to confirm Soney’s assertion when he says that in Delhi it is the middle class which is using the metro. “The same will be the case in Kochi," he says. "The money that has been invested has to be earned back.”

Huge expenses will be incurred for relocating 28 major water lines, and 200 electrical cables, both above and underground.

Bakshi says that on an inspector tour in August, with KESB engineers, from Aluva to Petta, it was observed that nine 66 KVA towers as well as 5 of 110 KVA will have to be modified.

There are thousands of pipes under MG Road and nobody knows which pipe goes where. On DH Road, there are two huge pipes, the size of rooms that leads to the Cochin Refinery. “How will these be relocated?” says lawyer V.P.K. Panicker.

Says Bakshi: “That is the responsibility of the state government.”

The metro pillars will be constructed by the side of the North bridge. “That finishes the little hope we have of widening the bridge,” says Panicker.

Several schools, temples, churches and mosques will have to be removed, apart from the cancellation of the proposed Kalamassery waste disposal plant.

An electricity-starved state has to provide 17 MVA (Mega Volt-Ampere) for running the trains and an additional 300 KW (Kilo Watts) for the stations.

“The state will have to buy thermal and atomic power,” says bookshop owner K.A. Viswanathan Nair. “This cost will have to be borne by the people.”

The financial burden of acquiring 40 acres to set up the project is going to be immense. In 2005 the project estimate was Rs 2239 crore. Today, Bakshi says, the cost is estimated at Rs 4427 crore, provided the work is completed on March 31, 2014. But local analysts say it will eventually reach Rs 10,000 crore.

Around six lakh people are expected to use the metro by 2025. This figure is based on the assumption that there will be suburban development around Kochi. But at this moment growth is taking place in Kakkanad, Vypeen and Fort Kochi. The people in these areas will have no urgent need to use the Metro Rail since they will be self-sufficient in terms of markets and other facilities.

Incidentally, since the inception of the Delhi Metro Rail in 2002, only 21 per cent of the projected travelers have availed of it, according to the Comptroller and Auditor General report of 2007-8.

“This has happened despite the presence of a huge population,” says businessman P.S. Nizar. “The Delhi Metro is still running in the red.”

There is every possibility that the Kochi Metro Rail will also be in the red for many years. And it is obvious that the physical devastation the city has to go through, apart from the financial costs, is too steep a price for the people to pay.

Alternative solutions to the Metro Rail

a) The completion of the road over-bridge at Pullepady and one near the KSRTC bus terminus connecting Mullassery Canal Road and Salim Rajan Road.

b) The proposed flyover at Edapally.

c) A flyover from Palarivattom junction at the National Highway 47 bypass to the High Court junction. This will have a length of 4.5 km

d) The proposed flyover at Vytilla

e) The road from Tripunithara to Vytilla has to be widened.

f) Kochi is flanked by the sea on the west. Three national waterways pass through the Greater Kochi area. By using speed boats, yachts, and ferries more people can be encouraged to use the waterways, reducing the traffic congestion on land.

g) Develop suburban trains: “If you look at the metro map, it runs parallel nearly throughout with the existing railway tracks,” says businessman Soney Mathew. “It is only from Kalamassery to the Ernakulam Town station that there is some distance from the railway tracks. So, a suburban network can be easily developed.”

The estimated cost of these projects is only Rs 400 crore.

“So why spend so much on a metro rail project and cause so much of disruption when cheaper alternatives are available?” says Soney.

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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