The MRTS segment, currently being operated by the Southern Railway, is likely to be taken-over by the Chennai Metro Rail Limited once the Metro becomes operational.
This will create one authority which will be in control of all the elevated rail networks in the city. Once the merger takes effect, the ‘normal' EMUs that run on the MRTS will be replaced by air-conditioned rakes that have automatic doors.
Speaking to The Hindu on Wednesday, T.V. Somanathan, Managing Director, Chennai Metro Rail, said that it made logical sense to integrate the two systems. “The MRTS is a loss making enterprise and not going to cost much to take-over. The State government has already invested two-thirds in the project. The modalities are yet to be worked out, but by the time the Metro becomes operational, the accumulated loss incurred by the Railway might have compensated for the equity invested by them.”
When a north-south-east corridor along the Buckingham Canal was conceived by the Madras Area Traffic Study Unit (MATSU) way back in the 1970s, it was estimated to cater for six lakh passengers a day. Currently, on an average, only about 70,000 commuters use the MRTS every day.
While operational expense on the network is about Rs.18 lakh per day, earnings amount to around Rs.3 lakh per day. In effect, the MRTS incurs an annual operational loss of Rs.54.7 crore. By 2013, the accumulated operational loss would have compensated for the 33 per cent investment made by the Southern Railway in Phase-II (Tirumailai to Velachery) of the project.
According to Mr. Somanathan, since the MRTS would connect to the Metro at both ends through inter-modal transit points, the ‘network effect' created by synchronised operations will be beneficial for both the networks.
“It is a part of the Ministry of Urban Development's thinking as well,” he added.
R. Ramanathan, Chief Administrative Officer (Construction), Southern Railway, said that negotiations have to start from scratch. “Right now, we are just concentrating on finishing the extension up to St.Thomas Mount.”
One of the major reasons for the failure of MRTS has been the lack of connectivity. It exists as an isolated, linear network that runs through areas of the city that are mostly institutional in character. Originally, the total length of the MRTS was envisaged to be 59.38 km, creating a circular corridor from the Chennai Beach to Ennore/Tiruvottiyur (industrial zones north of Chennai). The circular corridor was given up in light of the Metro project. The merger is aimed at providing overall integration and improving connectivity.
V. Thamizh Arasan, Head of Transportation Engineering Division, IIT-Madras, said, “It will be administratively convenient to operate a single system. Transport management will also be better under a single agency.”
According to him, commercial exploitation of stations, which has had many false starts, might have a better chance if the merger takes place.