“Extensive tests on this section under way”

Travelling by train from Chennai to Kanyakumari along the southern trunk route, through Tiruchi and Madurai, is set to be quicker with Southern Railway planning to commission the electrified Virudhunagar- Tirunelveli segment by June.

While electrification of the broad gauge line had extended from the Chennai side to Madurai and from the Kanyakumari end to Tirunelveli, the roughly 110-km Virudhunagar-Tirunelveli segment had been the missing link to providing seamless operation of trains with electric traction from Chennai and Kanyakumari.

“We are carrying out extensive tests on this section, and the commissioning of electric traction is expected in a couple of months,” said R.P. Udayakumar, Chief Project Manager (Railway Electrification), Chennai unit of the Central Organisation for Railway Electrification (CORE).

According to railway officials, the travel time from Chennai to Kanyakumari along what is one of the most congested trunk lines in the zonal railway could come down by from 30 minutes to an hour once end-to-end seamless electric traction is provided, as trains will no longer be required to change traction mid-way.

For peculiar reasons, the railways have been a slow-coach in launching electrification of this major route even as it accelerated a slew of projects elsewhere. For over three decades, the electrification of lines did not extend beyond Villupuram, even as projects were launched and completed on the Jolarpettai-Salem-Coimbatore-Palakkad mainline.

Initially, express trains underwent traction changeover with diesel locos taking over at Villupuram, before the switch was shifted to Tiruchi, and later to Madurai — a process that consumed 20-30 minutes.

It was only in 2009-10 — the same year that electric traction was fully aligned in the Kanyakumari-Thiruvananthapuram segment — that electrification beyond Villupuram lit up on the railways’ radar. For the past few years, however, the Virudhunagar-Tirunelveli segment ended up being bookended by fully electrified sections on the Madurai and Tirunelveli sides.

“For trains powered by electric traction, this segment was a bottleneck as it required a traction change to diesel for the rest of the journey,” an official said.

The Chennai Project unit, which executes electrification works across zones, is geared up to commission the Villupuram-Vellore (150 km) segment shortly. Recently, electric traction had been commissioned in the 103-km Dindigul-Madurai-Virudhunagar section.

“Once electrification of a few more line segments is completed, we will turn our focus to smaller inter-connecting lines,” Mr. Udayakumar said.

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