A total of approximately 224 acres of prime land owned by Southern Railway at three locales within the Kochi Corporation limits, which can be developed as rail-transit hubs, are unused and encroached upon.
Southern Railway has been doing little to make optimal use of these parcels of land - 42 acres at Old Railway Station (ORS) located behind the Kerala High Court, approximately 72 acres on Willingdon Island and 110 acres in the Kathrikadavu-Ponnurunni area. Developing these massive spaces would more than double space available now for berthing trains and maintaining them in Ernakulam. This would in turn speed up train movement through entire Kerala, where slow movement of trains has been a perennial problem.
Development of Old Railway Station (ORS) had been included in the list of seven projects taken up by Kerala Rail Development Corporation Limited (KRDCL) in 2016.
“Redevelopment of the station as a major hub in fast-developing Kochi is a priority area since there is no space for more platforms at the congested Ernakulam Junction and Ernakulam Town railway stations,” said an official of the agency, which is a joint venture between the State and the Railways to execute rail projects in Kerala on a cost-sharing basis.
The station, which was referred to as Ernakulam Railway Goods (ERG) station, was built in 1902 by the erstwhile Maharaja of Kochi. It was abandoned in 1990 with the development of Ernakulam Junction and yard. Apart from renovating dilapidated buildings at the station, the track leading to the main line has to be renovated and signals modernised.
The intention is to rebuild rail infrastructure in the terminus to world-class standard and to commercially exploit the spare land available. Kitco prepared a detailed project report for phase-one development works estimated to cost ₹505 crore. It was to be taken up as a PPP initiative, KRDCL sources said.
Works have not begun after numerous agitations, and promises by consecutive Union Railway Ministers that the vast premises will be developed as a hub-cum-shed for MEMU or short-distance trains.
Tie-up with RLDA
“It cannot host express trains in its current state, unless an overbridge is built over the level crossing at Pachalam. A tie up and subsequent inking of an MoU with Railway Land Development Authority (RLDA) will help speed up revival of the station to its past glory,” KRDCL sources said.
The State government and KRDCL must proactively clear bottlenecks to renovation of the station, a high-ranking railway official said. Moreover, the two dozen families who encroached on the station premises will have to be rehabilitated by the Kochi Corporation, he added.
In the meantime, the Ernakulam Old Railway Station Vikasana Samithy, which spearheaded the agitation to revive the station, has requested MPs from Kerala to proactively intervene and prevail upon Southern Railway to begin renovation works. “The Railway Ministry had sanctioned ₹7.5 crore to replace old tracks from the main line to the heritage station. But work has not commenced owing to the lethargic attitude of a section of Railway officials,” said K.P. Hariharakumar, general convener of the samithi.
The then Union Railway Minister had approved the station’s renovation in 2014. The ‘flimsy ground’ by railway officials that encroacher families on station premises must be rehabilitated first before beginning works shows their ‘irresponsible attitude’. The delay by the Kochi Corporation in rehabilitating the encroachers too is deplorable, he said.