Hope still not lost for Kochi metro’s Kakkanad extension

Barricades and pre-cast structures kept at Chembumukku for the Kochi metro’s Kakkanad extension. The Civil Line Road will be widened as part of the project.   | Photo Credit: THULASI KAKKAT

It would be premature to say that the 11.20-km-long Kakkanad (Infopark) extension of the Kochi Metro is in doldrums, although the Centre remained non-committal about extending financial assistance for the ₹1957-crore project, experts who held decisive positions in the urban transport sphere have said.

At the same time, Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL) ought to look for cheaper options like metro neo, bus rapid transport (BRT), or a well-networked modern bus system, in case there are realistic fears like unpredictable patronage and a massive investment for a conventional metro being not worth it, they said.

They were speaking on Thursday’s development in which, responding to a question by Adoor Prakash, MP, Union Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs Kaushal Kishore said in the Lok Sabha that the Centre had not taken a final decision on extending financial assistance for the project. He had further referred to the Centre’s assistance banking on aspects such as the metro’s extant policy, feasibility, and availability of resources.

‘Convince Centre’

Former Urban Development Secretary M. Ramachandran reminded that hope was still not lost for the Kakkanad extension, since funds had been earmarked in the Union Budget in February. “On their part, the State government and KMRL must be able to convince the Centre of the expected ridership, to justify the investment in the mass rapid transport system and external funding [approximately ₹1,300-crore soft loan expected from French agency AFD],” he said.

Cost-effective projects

O.P. Agarwal, who served as urban transport specialist at the World Bank, said the Union Minister’s reply did not imply that the Centre had turned down the State’s request seeking sanction for the project. “They [the Centre] will still be examining it. KMRL must with due diligence do a careful evaluation of whether a conventional metro extension is needed or if cost-effective alternative systems like metro-neo, BRT, or even a well-operated bus fleet will suffice,” he observed.

Low patronage

“This is especially so, since the 25-km Aluva-Pettah alignment was recording an average daily patronage of 70,000 at the best of times [in comparison with the over 3.5 lakh patronage that was expected]. The pandemic has further brought down the number. A modern bus network can easily cater for this many [70,000] people. Being capital intensive [a km of metro can cost up to ₹300 crore], a conventional metro rail system needs to carry 70,000 people per hour per direction, to justify the expenditure,” Mr. Agarwal said.

KMRL ought to evaluate whether the Kakkanad extension will substantially improve patronage for the metro, since IT firms and many others are encouraging employees to work from home to minimise real estate expenses. Similarly, the growth of online shopping has brought down footfall in shops. In such a situation, the agency could think of readying a BRT on the 11.20-km Jawaharlal Nehru international Stadium-Infopark road corridor that is being widened to 22 metres as part of the metro’s preparatory work. Buses ought to ensure similar level of comfort as in metro and must have the same colour as metro trains, while also sporting the metro agency’s logo, he added.

Meanwhile, KMRL officials were non-committal about the future course of action.

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Printable version | Sep 18, 2021 12:10:28 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/hope-still-not-lost-for-kochi-metros-kakkanad-extension/article35632661.ece

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