MRTS: A wreck of a system

If you are new to Chennai or a first time user of the Mass Rapid Transit System (MRTS) – an elevated train connecting Beach and Velachery — the following guide may help:

If you have entered Thiruvanmiyur station near the TIDEL park junction, do not get lost looking for the ticket counter. It is at the farthest end, but walk carefully. Do not park your vehicle in the basement unless you are trained in a circus. Watch out when you step out, the buzzing roads kiss the exit. Do not mind the cows at the Perungudi station, they never cause any harm. But do not trust the water coolers. Wait until you reach Mylapore where you will find the only vending stall. If you want a smooth ride to Marina beach or the Parthasarathy temple, do not get down in Triplicane – it floats over the Buckingham sewer. If you are desperate, you can use the toilet at the Kasturba Nagar station, but get out as quickly as you can.

Beach station is bound to offer you a sense of relief. The platforms are on grade. Though it is a long walk to the entrance, at least it is safe. There is a coffee vending machine that is manually operated.

For those who want to travel after seven in the night, only statistics can be comforting. Guided more by intuition than by bright lights, commuters have been reaching their respective platforms safely. So far, not many have reported the breaking of legs due to groping in the dark.

All these tips are for those who are able to and can climb three steep floors. Senior citizens and the disabled: forget your desire to use the MRTS. Lifts, escalators and other things mechanical are often under repair. But I have to admit that I do not mind the winding queue to buy tickets in Velachery nor the long wait for the D70 bus to take me home from the station. I can endure them since the roads are choked; the 21L bus to the office is packed; and the office is only a three-minute walk from the Chintadripet station.

Sum and substance of the MRTS: squalor, ruin and wreck. That is if you overlook the fourth point – its crawling pace of construction.

Forty years on and still incomplete, the MRTS probably holds the dubious record for the most-delayed infrastructural project in the country. But it was not a bad project when it started.

In 197I, when it was first conceptualised, the MRTS was one of the most ambitious projects in the city. It was meant to connect the Beach Station with St. Thomas Mount and then continue to link Villivakkam and go beyond to complete the circle, by connecting Tiruvottiyur. Some of the best talents were commissioned to design it.

Delays and changes messed it up; cost escalated and the network shrank to be of less use.

The first phase covering a distance of about 9 km (Beach to Mylapore) estimated to cost Rs. 55 crore in 1984, was finished in 1997 at a cost of Rs. 269 crore. When the second phase (Mylapore to Velachery) was completed in 2007, construction cost of the 11 km stretch had phenomenally increased to Rs. 777 crore. The link between Velachery and St. Thomas Mount is still being built. None of the stations are complete. The Villivakam-Tiruvottiyur project is as good as dropped.

The brisk pace of the Metro Rail construction is assuring. But it has not learnt the lessons from the MRTS — an inadequate network length, poor planning for modal transfers and lack of integration with the surrounding areas plague the Metro Rail too. But that is another story.

The State, which is spending thousands of crores on Metro, should spend a few tens to complete the MRTS tracks and make the stations safe and commuter-friendly. Will the government do it?

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Printable version | Apr 20, 2021 10:33:53 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/chen-columns/mrts-a-wreck-of-a-system/article3566527.ece

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