What is the light rail system and why was a plan to start a line in Chennai suspended?

June 09, 2022 12:41 am | Updated 07:14 pm IST - CHENNAI

The CMRL has decided to re-evaluate the proposal to build the light rail between Tambaram and Velachery.

The CMRL has decided to re-evaluate the proposal to build the light rail between Tambaram and Velachery. | Photo Credit: B. Velankanni Raj

The story so far

Chennai Metro Rail Ltd. (CMRL) recently announced that it had put on hold its plan to build a light rail line between Tambaram and Velachery. With the State government setting its eyes on an expansion spree of primarily rail-based transit network in the city, including expanding the metro line in the south from the airport to Kilambakkam (where a new bus terminus is coming up) and linking the suburbs in the south with a line between Tambaram and Velachery. Authorities wanted to explore the Light Rail Transit (LRT) system as one of the options for building connectivity between Tambaram and Velachery alone, because of certain unique facets of this area.

What is the Light Rail Transit system?

The LRT is to essentially act as a supplementary or feeder service for a full-fledged Metro Rail system. If Chennai Metro Rail trains can transport 1,200 passengers in one trip, the LRT trains can carry less than one-third of it. For instance, the feasibility study done between Tambaram to Velachery shows that the trains can take a maximum of 300 passengers in three coaches. LRT should be built at-grade (ground-level) as far as possible, according to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs; but if it doesn’t seem feasible, then the next best option is to build the system as an elevated one. The stations will be designed and built in a much smaller scale, unlike the Metro Rail system.

Why was the Light Rail Transit system considered?

Building a high capacity Metro Rail system has been a cost-intensive exercise. While the cost of phase I project of Chennai Metro was ₹14,600 crore, the cost of phase II was as high as ₹61,841 crore. A key reason for looking at options like Light Rail was to reduce capital cost and expenditure. From infrastructure to maintenance and operations, building this system is bound to cost less for the government.

Why has the plan been put on hold temporarily?

The feasibility report, after carefully studying the pros and cons of implementing an LRT system, suggested that there may be several challenges in creating the infrastructure, implementing and maintenance of the system. As a result, the report has recently recommended that a conventional Metro Rail system itself be implemented between Tambaram and Velachery since the existing infrastructure already created for phase I and phase II project can be utilised in various means and the stations between these projects can be interlinked too, if needed.

However, the plan to construct a rail-based transit system between Tambaram to Velachery itself has been put on hold temporarily. This is because, officials say, quite a few areas including Madiappakkam, Medavakkam, Kamaraj Garden and Tambaram will already have a station in the Airport-Kilambakkam stretch or as part of the phase II project. The idea is to see how the phase II and Airport-Kilambakkam stretches are used by commuters and if need arises, this project too can be implemented.  

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