Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Metro tale...err...Rail

A couple of days ago, there was a cursory note in the media that the Delhi Metro Railway Corporation had rejected the proposal to have a Light Rail Tranport System in Trivandrum, citing the fact that city is adequately serviced by its road system. So what happened, when every tom, dick and harry city in the neighbourhood is clamouring for a Metro, the name-of-choice for a Metropolitan/Mass Rapid Transit System (MRTS), of which LRTS is one of the many technical options?

Firstly, MRTS is a necessary service when a large city has a concentrated Central Business District where people work, and commute in and out to suburbs where they live. This uniaxial, high volume traffic will call for high capacity transport systems like freeways or MRTS. Trivandrum, fortunately for us, has a radial layout with multiple CBDs and suburbs all around, unlike say a Mumbai or a Delhi. Trivandrum has Business Districts at Statue to East Fort, Kazhakoottam, Chalaia - Karamana etc instead of a Nariman Point or a Connaught Place.

With a radial road network, being developed to world-class by the Trivandrum Road Improvement Project (TRIP), Trivandrum can easily split up its daily traffic flows along multiple axes. While the arterial MG Road takes up much of this load now, with TRIP implemented, multiple axes will be created.

The DMRC study looked at as many as 13 major traffic alignments. This in itself proves that the city has a multiaxial layout. So, eventhough the Trivandrum Corporation area has a population in excess of one million (ten lakhs) and the Urban Agglomeration, which includes the suburbs and areas like Attingal, Nedumangad, Neyyatinkara etc. will have another 500-600,000 people, the congestion on any one route is minimised.

What the DMRC study may have overlooked is that tremendous growth is happening along one particular axis which may result in massive traffic demands. This is the IT Corridor. This stretch of the NH-47 bypass will include India's biggest IT park - Technopark, Trivandrum International Airport, a host of luxury hotels and convention centres, the Kochuveli rail terminus and the upcoming Vizhinjam Transshipment Terminal. In short, it will be the hottest piece of real estate in the State.

Conservative estimates project that atleast 50,000 techies will be working in Phase I, II and III of Technopark by 2010-11. And if Technocity is on stream by then, another 20,000 or so could be in place. And eventually, as the IT Corridor is extended towards Kollam, upto 200,000 techies could be working and living in this zone. Once their family members and the indirect employees are taken into account, this could be close to a million. With industrialisation at the other end of the Corridor fueled by the Vizhinjam Port, this number will go up significantly.

Once that is the case, a MRTS will be required along this axis. And the Government has taken the right step forward by including this line in the City Development Plan submitted recently, under the JNURM project.

So what is all this hubub about a similar project being trumpted around in a nearby city? Initially, there was a sky-bus or a magic carpet, or something of that sort proposed for a stretch in the city. The Konkan Railway Corporation, set up by the legendary malayali engineer, Sreedharan, which proposed this option later quietly withdrew.

Later, the Oommen Chandy Govt. pushed ahead with a MRTS line in Cochin on the pretext that the North-South axis has sufficient traffic to justify such an investment. It is true that with its locational constraint, where it is locked in between the Sea and Vembanad Lake, a bottlenecking of traffic does occur, which has become legendary these days.

But is there enough traffic to justify an expensive MRTS. An MRTS costs about 100-200 Crores per Km to build. According to the same DMRC, a certain minimum traffic volume is required for the project ever to be viable. Mr. Sreedharan, DMRC's MD (formerly of the Konkan Railway...ya, the "Sky Bus" guys), believes that a city of around 3 million is the bare minimum to support an MRTS. Cochin has a population of less than half of this, even if its extended Urban Agglomeration is taken into account. And the latter includes far off towns to make up the figure. For the Trivandrum Capital Region, the same will be closer to 2 million right now.

A few months ago, the Ministry of Urban Development declined to provide any funding for the project on the grounds that it was not viable given the current population. This funding is essential for the success of such infra projects. Even the Mumbai Metro required around 20% viability gap funding to get off the ground, even though Mumbai is over fiften times bigger/more populous than Cochin and the project is being executed by none other than the local behemoth - Reliance Energy. Although the MoUD's decision was downplayed in the friendly neighbourhood media - especially in "Kerala's largest daily" - nothing further has transpired in the matter.

Looks like the only ones who still hope to ride the train in Cochin are the poor deluded characters who cheered on "Sky-bus", "Sky-City", "BMW", "Fashion City" and the other ludicrous initiatives which were much trumpted but eventually never materialised in the Queen of the Arabian Sea. Well, what is one more or one less in a long list of "dream projects". dreams?!

Realistically, for Tier - II cities with populations of 1-2 million, the best option is to have a more cost effective system as a Bus Rapid Transit System, which has also been included in the Trivandrum CDP this time. So better a nice bus ride than on imaginary hot-air powered trains...!!!


  1. surajsharma said...
    er regarding the population thing the facts ( if thats something the hopelessly deluded understands)

    Trivandrum is the largest city in kerala becoz its area is twice that of kochi ..Kochi UA doesnt include far of cities but include only tripunithura and kalamassery ..

    Trivandrum has 750000 people in an area of 194 sq km ie approx 3500/sq km..

    If the same yard stick is used then the Kochi metro area (GCDA)which has an area of 750 SQ KM and a population of 2.8 million approx ie about 4000/sqkm should be considered as a city and future metro ..

    infact most of India has started considering it as an emerging metro ...

  2. Lol....Suraj, do grow up in life and take cognizance of facts.

    Firstly, the Trivandrum Corpn. is 150 sq Km in area.

    Secondly, it has over a million people in it. Census figures show a population of 899,000 (2001 Figures) in the Corpn. itself and not in some fictitious U/A. Wonder where you got ur figure of 750,000?

    Thirdly, Election 2005 figures showed over 750,000 registered voters in the Corpn. area. Now assume that only 90% of the population over 18 are registered. On average, 25% of the Indian population is under 18. Hence, even if everyone over 18 are registered voters (75%), then the population of the Corporation is 1,000,000 - One million!

    Finally, the Corpn. of Tvm does not include such areas as Kazhakoottam - which has Technopark, India's biggest IT Park - or Kudappanakunnu which includes the Civil Station complex.
    So, when the U/A of Trivandrum is notified, it will include a lot more areas.

    The U/A of Cochin only has a population of 1.3 million, as per the 2001 Census. Please do not quote erroneous figures.

    Once the Trivandrum Capital Region is notified to include nearby urban areas like Nedumangad and Attingal, we will have an apple-to-apple comparison with the GCDA.

    And I wonder which is this "most of India" which considers Cochin as a metro? Other than Manorama and a few other deluded souls, I don't think anyone else has made that mistake!! Lol!


  3. Let me correct myself, the area of the Trivandrum Corpn. is 141 sq. Km.

    This gives a population density of approximately 5300/Sq. Km.

    We consider the million-odd figure that I explained, based on 2005 Election data, that figure crosses 7000/Sq. Km. And all this data is available on official GoI and GoK websites.


Thanks for your comment, I will take a look at it and put it up at the earliest.