TAMIL NADU

Will MPs impress on Railway Minister to speed up projects?

MADURAI, SEPT. 17. Formation of a seven-member panel of MPs by the Democratic Progressive Alliance (DPA) to monitor and expedite Central schemes in the State is seen as a ray of hope to speed up the pending gauge conversion/doubling projects in the southern districts.

Traders, consumer activists and passengers in this part of the State are confident that long-pending projects such as the Madurai-Dindigul broad gauge line doubling, Madurai-Rameswaram and Tiruchi-Manamadurai gauge conversion projects would get more attention and fund allocations with the MPs coming together to take up the common cause cutting across party lines, perhaps for the first time in recent years.

Though the 64-km Madurai-Dindigul doubling project was sanctioned a couple of years ago, the engineers are still awaiting financial sanction of the Railway Board to commence works. The Rs. 96-crore scheme is expected to decongest the Madurai-Dindigul section, the utilisation of which has crossed 160 per cent and facilitate operation of more trains.

Similarly, the 162-km Madurai-Rameswaram conversion works have gained momentum after six years. However, the Rs. 243-crore project will be completed up to Mandapam by 2006 and officials are not sure whether to construct a new bridge across sea to connect Rameswaram from Pamban or to strengthen the existing meter gauge bridge to lay the new line.

"Instead of getting meagre funds for all the projects, the MPs should insist on one-time allocation of funds to complete projects on a priority," says the Tamil Nadu Chamber of Commerce and Industry president, S. Rethinavelu.

For instance, the Madurai-Dindigul doubling project should be taken up at the earliest. "We can also increase the frequency of some trains if the section is doubled. The Chennai Egmore-Nagercoil should be developed as it is the busiest corridor in the Southern Railway," he said.

Traders feel the thrust should be more in Madurai division where more than 70 per cent of the rail route is still on meter gauge. The MPs should take immediate steps to get the Dindigul-Pollachi-Palghat/ Coimbatore conversion project sanctioned as it would provide a direct link to major towns in Kerala and the Konkan Railways, besides enabling an alternative route to the north from Madurai via Coimbatore.

"The Madurai-Bodi section is another revenue-oriented route which has been branded as uneconomic branch line. Thousands of passengers travelling to Chennai from Usilampatti, Andipatti, Theni and Bodi areas are dependent on road transport. A direct BG link to northern destinations from Bodi would not only enhance passenger traffic but also increase the loading of cardamom and spices," says a senior railway official.

The Madurai MP, P. Mohan, a member of the panel, says the MPs will meet in Chennai on September 23 to finalise the Central projects, which required immediate attention. "We intend to meet the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, and the Union Railway Minister, Lalu Prasad, and submit a memorandum," he says.

A section of the travelling public are of the view that the MPs should lay focus on establishing a BG double line between Madurai and Chennai Egmore, as it is among the most profitable routes in Southern Railway.

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