At long last there are plans to expand the Chennai Metrorail Limited (CMRL) network to make it a public transport system that will cover a large section of the city. It is reliably learnt that even as Phase 1 of the Metro is nearing completion, work is underfoot on surveying the rest of Chennai for a second and more ambitious phase. This is being undertaken by RITES (formerly Rail India Technical and Economic Services) Limited and will soon be submitted to the State Government. This is to the good, but speedy action in implementation will hold the key to making it an effective solution.
Phase 1 of CMRL, which will connect Washermanpet to Chennai Airport via two corridors, is present becoming operational in phases. It has suffered a number of delays because of land acquisition, vendor defaults, prolonged neglect owing to change of party in power, and technical issues. After much cost escalation due to these reasons, the entire line is expected to be fully operational by 2017. It is in the light of this track record that the next phase is to be viewed.
Phase 2 is envisaged in three corridors. The first, will be from Madhavaram Milk Colony in the north to SIPCOT in Sholinganallur, via an eastern alignment, traversing Perambur, Otteri, Purasawalkam, Chetpet, Nungambakkam and then onwards via south Chennai. This will span 44.3 km and have 45 stations. The second will connect the same end points but on a western alignment, via areas such as Villivakkam, Anna Nagar, Ramapuram, Nandambakkam, St Thomas Mount and onwards. This will span 44.6 km and 42 stations. A smaller third corridor will be on a east west axis, connecting Lighthouse at the Beach to the mofussil bus station at Koyambedu. This will have 17 stations and span 15.7 km.
Much of these corridors is planned to be underground. Therein lies the rub. The current phase has a mix of tracks above and below the ground. The average cost comes to around Rs 300 crore per km of work done, the above ground cost coming to Rs 150 crore/km and the below ground around Rs 400 crore/km. If Phases 2, 3 and 4 are all largely subterranean, the expenses will be at the higher end. That means the Government will have to be ready with the funds. It is understood that like Phase 1, the other phases will also be funded with Japanese assistance. That may not be much of an issue as financial institutions in the developed world are keen to associate with projects in emerging nations, chiefly with an eye on earning higher rates of return. What is more important is that CMRL focuses on completing the latter phases according to planned deadlines. Each month of delay in completion will only push the costs higher. If these are to be recovered, it would mean more expensive fares and if these are not attractive, commuters may still continue to use private transport. To what purpose, then, such an investment? It is high time that our State authorities wake up to the importance of deadlines and the financial impact of non adherence to them.
There is yet another aspect that the new plan is silent on. It was announced just as a couple of months ago that the Mass Rapid Transport System that operates from Beach station to Velachery would eventually be merged with the Metrorail. If that were to be done, execution of large part of Corridor 3 would be completed very soon with probably not much of a cost outlay. What happened to that idea? Perhaps the feasibility report when it is out will cover this aspect as well.
In the ultimate analysis, the Metrorail will be an immense boon to the city and help improve its public transport system. The five corridors would together account for 104 km of the city. It is to be hoped that the plans materialise into reality soon.