Critics say Railways should first meet infrastructure needs

The State government has come in for criticism for showing “undue haste” in taking up a proposal of Railways to set up a suburban railway corridor.

The critics say the State does not have the luxury to take up the proposal now as the infrastructure needs of its railway network remain largely unaddressed.

It was Divisional Railway Manager Rajesh Agrawal who submitted the proposal to the government aiming at hassle-free transportation for commuters.

But the projects sidelined in the State are many — doubling of the Ernakulam- Kottayam- Alappuzha- Kayamkulam stretch, electrification of the line up to Mangalore, development of the Kochuveli terminal and a coaching depot at Nemom, full-fledged MEMU operations.

Mr. Agrawal has mooted the suburban service as similar to those in Mumbai and other metros to avoid congestion on the road network.

With the promise of no land acquisition, the government set the ball rolling, trying to rope in Mumbai Rail Vikas Corporation for a feasibility study for the suburban service.

Railway sources said clearance of the Railway Board was mandatory for the proposal as in the case of any railway projects. Moreover, massive investment is needed for the works.

Transport planners and railway officials wonder how suburban trains can be operated on saturated railway lines at a time when the operating wing is struggling to squeeze in newly sanctioned trains for the State.

“Railways cannot even operate MEMU services for short-distance commuters. As the maintenance shed in Kollam has not become operational, the MEMUs are being taken to Palakkad for trip maintenance after five days and to Erode and Avadi for ‘IOH.’ It is surprising that instead of addressing the pressing needs, the suburban service is being pushed through,” a top Railway official said.

“It is a vision document of Mr. Agrawal and there is no doubt about that. It should be viewed with the realities,” added another railway official. The project to put Sabarimala on the railway map and better facilities at railway stations had all been sidelined.

Squeezing in suburban trains into the saturated lines along with mail and express trains will be at the cost of safety and it will be not relentless mobility as envisaged by Mr. Agrawal, the official said. “What is the need for air-conditioned MEMU service,” he wondered.

Automatic signalling will be needed for the service and this means massive investment. Track circuiting on a stretch will need crores — circuiting for an intermediate block section alone costs Rs. 2.5 crore.

Interlocking the level crossings, introducing separate coaches, raising of the platforms to level with the height of suburban trains and strengthening of the railway lines to ensure that the heavy cars of the suburban trains pass through marshy and water-logged areas are the challenges.

“The State has jumped into the proposal submitted by Mr. Agarwal without seeking the advice of experts like Metroman and Planning Board Member E. Sreedharan and without looking into the immediate needs,” a transport planner said.

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