The State is likely to face several challenges in setting up a suburban corridor and commencing suburban rail services on the Thiruvananthapuram-Chengannur-Harippad sections as suggested by the Railways for hassle-free travel by short-distance commuters. The biggest challenge will be the huge cost to be incurred by the State for suburban trains as the Railways wants the project as a joint venture with the State. A special purpose vehicle had also been mooted.
Railway sources said this had been recommended in view of the huge throw-forward of ongoing projects and limited availability of resources and hence the State would have to share cost of the suburban project.
The Planning Commission has decided that the project proposals to be taken up on socio-economic considerations by the Ministry of Railways have to be supported by the State government by providing land free of cost and 50 per cent of the cost of construction, it has been pointed out.
Going by the announcement by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy that suburban corridor was cheap compared to the north-south high-speed rail corridor. The cost would be Rs. 20 a km, and Rs. 4,800 crore for the 240-km stretch from Thiruvananthapuram to Haripad and Chengannur.
The entire 240-km stretch will have to be track circuited and it would cost minimum of Rs.3.5 crore per km to introduce automatic signalling system by replacing the absolute signalling system.
In addition, the cars for suburban trains, strengthening of the track for withstanding the heavy suburban rakes, and raising of the platform at the stations have to be taken up and this will need huge funds. “The argument that suburban trains can run on the existing track and platform height is wrong. A dedicated third line is needed for it,” said a Railway official. Railway sources said the State would have to find 50 per cent of the project cost that will touch Rs.10,000 crore as per the current estimates.
The move is to reduce stops of long-distance mail and express and superfast trains on the Thiruvananthapuram-Shoranur stretch to six and to run suburban trains during the gap in between by introducing the automatic signalling system. Restricting stoppages for superfast trains on the Thiruvananthapuram-Shoranur stretch, the boundary of the Thiruvanthapuram railway division, and running them at permissible speed can save one hour running time for these trains.