The Railway Minister has not found the commuters of sweltering Chennai deserving of air-conditioned EMU service. That's no way to win support.

The Mass Rapid Transit System (parakkum rayil) of Chennai is indisputably the first ‘Metro’ rail for Chennai, since it runs mostly on an elevated system and was conceived as a modern mass mover served by big stations. That it was left out in the cold because neither the Southern Railway nor the Tamil Nadu government really worked for its growth together is too well known. Even the partnership for Phase II of the MRTS between the two sides has not helped.

Not surprising, then, that the Union Railway Minister P.K. Bansal has announced the introduction of the ‘first AC EMU rake’ for the Mumbai suburban network during 2013-14, without a parallel service for Chennai. Apparently, the Centre is unable to think of the long-term goodwill such a move would garner in this city!

Introducing air-conditioned EMU services on the MRTS would have achieved the double objective of attracting more passengers to the rail system throughout the day, and integrating a modern train option with the upcoming Chennai Metro Rail system. It would make it possible to offer common travel passes for both the systems and draw many more people away from their personal air-conditioned vehicles than a standalone Chennai Metro would.

It is obvious that air-conditioned services are also needed in Chennai, on its many suburban sectors covering Beach – Tambaram-Chengalpattu-Tirumalpur, Central – Arakkonam, Gummidipoondi, Sulurpet and so on.

But Chennai commuters are resigned to being treated as less-equal to their counterparts in Mumbai for many years now. New EMU coaches go promptly for deployment to the Maharashtra capital, but it has taken years for them to be seen here. Passengers have become used to poorly kept, uncomfortable and stuffy trains in Chennai. They also do not have bus linkage with the railways, as this Urban Jungle piece recently pointed out.

Note also in the Railway Minister’s speech, the absence of additional EMU services for Chennai suburban, compared to Mumbai (72 additional services) and Kolkata (18 services). Kolkata in addition gets 80 more expanded trains - 9 coach to 12 coach services – compared with 30 for Chennai, although this city also has high peak hour volumes.

Are the Vindhyas obstructing Mr. Bansal’s view of the South? Also, are the many Tamil Nadu politicians now in Delhi so disconnected from their constituents in Chennai?