After a protracted delay, Chennai Metro Rail phase I, covering 45 km of the city, was completed, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurating the final 10 km stretch from AG-DMS to Washermanpet on February 10. The line connects north Chennai with the airport through the Chennai Central railway station and runs through the arterial Anna Salai, serving what is perhaps the busiest stretch of the city.
After the Union government accorded approval to this project in January 2009, it raised towering expectations, with a promise to open both corridors — Chennai Central to St. Thomas Mount and Washermanpet to the airport — by December 2015. But the project was plagued by delays as a chain of pressing issues emerged.
What led to the delays?
Initially, there was a delay because of land acquisition. Subsequently, as the issue was ironed out, two contracts had to be terminated because of poor progress of construction. Chennai Metro Rail (CMRL) lost several months in awarding new contracts. Officials said there was difficulty in carrying out tunnelling work for the underground network because of unpredictable soil conditions. Plodding along, CMRL managed to get trains running in 45 km of phase I, in sections, over the last four years.
Why is there lack of patronage?
After the opening of the entire 45 km network, there are between 82,000 and 85,000 people travelling every day. But sources say they had expected it to be at least one lakh. A host of factors, including inadequate feeder services such as mini-buses for last-mile connectivity, and high fares (ranging from ₹10 to ₹60) contribute to poor footfalls. There are cycles for last-mile connectivity at many stations, and share autos and share cars too operate, but only at select stations. The Common Ticketing System, where a commuter can use CMRL’s smart cards in buses too, has not been implemented yet.
How can it increase passengers?
Gitakrishnan Ramadurai, professor at the IIT-Madras, says, “Firstly, commuters should have access to good footpaths that encourage them to walk to stations or authorities could ensure there are adequate numbers of bicycles at all stations. Also, all buses must stop at the respective station in each area so that commuters can easily switch between various modes of transport.” Activists say that unless the fares are reduced at least by another 10%, there may not be an increase in the number of passengers.
V. Subramani of the Traffic and Transportation Forum says, “Currently, trip cards offer about a 20% discount, but they have to provide another 10% or give unlimited number of trips for a fixed amount per week or month. They could also offer some concessions to senior citizens and students.” CMRL officials say they have been taking steps to improve last-mile connectivity at all 32 stations.
The focus has shifted to finishing the construction of Phase I’s extension project, which when completed next year will link the northern areas of the city — Wimco Nagar and Tondiarpet — to the network. It also plans to start the mammoth 119 km Phase II later this year, as it has received substantial funding. While this project looks promising as it aims to connect all major areas of the city and its suburbs, it is crucial that it is executed without inordinate delays.