Change of track halts east coast rail link project

Off the track: The Puducherry government has proposed that the alignment for the proposed Chennai-Cuddalore via Puducherry rail link should run along the Cuddalore Road. But the railways have successfully completed alignment of the entire stretch covering the alignment via Bahour which was originally accepted by the territorial government.   | Photo Credit: S_S_KUMAR

The ambitious Chennai-Cuddalore rail link project has run into rough weather with the non-conclusion of the alignment falling within the Union Territory.

The project was conceived more than a decade ago and the Railway Board set aside ₹25 crore in the supplementary budget in 2007 for the preliminary work.

In its final stage, the Chennai-Cuddalore line via Perungudi envisaged taking the line along the east coast up to Kanniyakumari.

The initial phase was focused on connecting Chennai with Cuddalore via Puducherry at an estimated cost of about ₹7,000 crore, said a senior official on condition of anonymity.

The project was put on on the backburner until 2013 when Southern Railway showed its green flag to the final location survey to identify land use and cost. “Out of the 240-km stretch from Chennai to Cuddalore, the Railways have successfully completed alignment of the entire stretch via Bahour in Puducherry which was originally accepted by the territorial government. But the government changed its decision and has taken the stand to change the proposed alignment over the last four to five years resulting in cost escalation and time overrun,” the official said.

The project has been stalled with the Puducherry government failing to utilise over ₹160 crore sanctioned by the Railways since 2012 for the project because of differences over the alignment in the Puducherry-Cuddalore segment.

Strange decision

M. Nizamuddin, secretary of the Tamil Nadu-Puducherry Citizens Council for Railway Development, said the Puducherry government had taken an amusing stand that the alignment should be through the ECR instead of Bahour as the cost of land acquisition would be much lower. “The government had already accepted the alignment via Bahour. But now it has been demanding change in the alignment. A major portion of the alignment covering 195 km has been completed while a mere 12-13 km stretch that passes through the UT has now become the bone of contention.

“The government has given in to the pressure from vested interests, especially private bus owners in Puducherry who are against the project per se whether it passes through Bahour or along ECR as they fear that the proposed line would hit their revenue. On the contrary, the project cost will escalate if the line passes close to the ECR. The private bus operators pressure tactics have stalled the project and ultimately the Railways will shelve this ambitious project,” Mr. Nizamuddin said.

The then Transport Commissioner had submitted a report to the government claiming that the cost of land close to the ECR was cheaper than that on the Bahour stretch. As per rough estimates, the construction of one km of railway track will cost ₹20 crore while the route through ECR would cost ₹38 crore a km, the official said.

Karaikal-Peralam link

According to sources, the Railways has set in motion the process of restoration of the long-pending Karaikal-Peralam link with the Railway Board sanctioning ₹176 crore for laying the 23-km new line from Karaikal to Peralam. Unlike the Cuddalore-Puducherry section for which lands have to be acquired, the Railways is in possession of land for the Karaikal-Peralam project, which is expected to be completed in three years.

The restoration of the line would pave the way for a shorter and direct route to Karaikal from Mayiladuthurai and Peralam instead of the present detour via Tiruvarur, Nagapattinam and Nagore. “If the Karaikal-Peralam broadgauge line becomes functional, the fare from Karaikal to Cuddalore will become comparatively cheaper. Train fare would be lower than an average long-distance bus or express bus fare.

“If the alignment on the Cuddalore-Puducherry section is finalised by the government, Karaikal will be connected to the headquarters. Moreover, train travel is safer than bus ride for senior citizens and women,” Mr. Nizamuddin added.

‘Unreasonable demands’

“The Puducherry government has been making unreasonable demands, including establishment of new stations at Ariyankuppam, Thavalakuppam, Kirumambakkam and Kannikovil besides a second line with electrification. The project now seems to be heading nowhere,” an official said.

The east coast line is expected to reduce travel time as the Chennai-Puducherry journey along this line is expected to be only about two hours as against the present four or five hours.

The tentative alignment for the railway line between Old Mahabalipuram Road and East Coast Road is along Sholinganallur, Kovalam, Tiruporur, Mamallapuram, Kalpakkam, Kuvathur, Cheyyur, Marakanam, Kunimedu, Kuyilappalayam, Jipmer, Bahour, Varakalpattu and Tirupadipuliyur and terminate at the Cuddalore Port junction.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2021 7:36:19 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/puducherry/change-of-track-halts-east-coast-rail-link-project/article28119409.ece

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