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Late, but on track

Print edition : Nov 18, 2011 T+T-

With the inauguration of the first stretch of the Bangalore Metro, the city hopes for some relief from its traffic snarls.

in Bangalore

AFTER having missed several deadlines, the much-awaited Bangalore Metro finally began operations on October 20 on its first stretch Reach 1 of the Eastern line, part of Phase I of the Metro project. Reach 1 was inaugurated by Union Minister for Urban Development Kamal Nath in the presence of Karnataka Chief minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda and Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley. Union Minister of State for Railways K.H. Muniappa was also present. Predictably, the various politicians at the event tried to score subtle brownie points for their respective political parties by claiming credit for the idea of the Metro.

When October 20 was announced as the launch date for the first stretch, many people were sceptical as Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) had missed four deadlines in the past. Its first deadline was March 2010.

The length of this first stretch may be small, 6.7 kilometres with six stations, but the expectations are huge. That the people of Bangalore thronged the two stations of the inaugural stretch is testimony to the excitement that the much-delayed project has generated. For more than four years now since work began in 2007 the city's denizens have been stoically bearing the brunt of the massive construction project. As the Metro work progressed, transport infrastructure across the city weakened as roads were dug up. In some areas roads almost disappeared.

With the next section of Phase I set to begin operations only by the end of 2012, this first operational stretch is being called a showpiece. While that may be true, it has set the ball rolling for the much-needed overhaul of the city's transport infrastructure.

Inaugural ride

The first ride on the Bangalore Metro was smooth and hassle-free. Beyond the turnstile, the excitement was palpable. Curious citizens awaited their first ride on the Metro. Many of them bought a return ticket too as they were there only for a joy ride. Some had come from faraway towns to see this technological marvel. Even children were present in large numbers.

In the few hours that the Metro operated on the first day, BMRCL netted Rs.4 lakh.

On Reach 1, tickets are priced between Rs.10 and Rs.15. Each train has three cars at present and can carry about 1,100 passengers. The Bangalore Metro has been designed for a capacity of 40,000 PHPDT (peak hour peak direction traffic).

Long wait

It has been a long wait for Bangalore. The Mass Rapid Transit System (MRTS) was first mooted as a solution to the growing city's traffic woes in 1982. C.K. Jaffer Sharief, Member of Parliament from Bangalore, was the Union Minister of State for Railways when the idea was first put forward. E. Sreedharan, who later became well known as Delhi's Metro Man, helped prepare a report on the proposed MRTS.

The proposal was taken seriously only after S.M. Krishna became Chief Minister in 2002. The work of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation Limited (DMRCL) also hastened the setting up of BMRCL. The agency was originally known as Bangalore Mass Rapid Transit Limited (BMRTL). It is the nodal agency for the Bangalore Metro and is a joint venture of the Union Ministry of Urban Development and the Government of Karnataka.

Work on Phase I started only in April 2007 even though the foundation stone was laid by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in June 2006.

Called Namma Metro, which translates as Our Metro, the Bangalore Metro's Phase I has divided the city into two corridors for its operations. While the east-to-west corridor runs from Bypanahalli to the Mysore Road terminal, the north-south corridor extends from Yeshwantpur to the R.V. Road terminal. When the entire Phase I, a length of 42 km, is completed by the end of 2014, the city will be criss-crossed by the Metro. Work on the more ambitious Phase II, which will link the outskirts to the city, is also being envisaged.

But realists advise caution. A senior official of the Bangalore Traffic Police called it a tourist attraction that would only increase Bangalore's traffic woes: Things might be very different by the end of 2012 after the rest of the sections open. But right now, it looks like the traffic situation will worsen.

M.N. Sreehari, an urban traffic management expert, said that the Metro's actual impact could not be assessed yet; for a true picture to emerge, at least one corridor of the entire network must be finished.

Many commentators feel that inadequate last-mile connectivity may become a deterrent for many potential users of the Metro. Until the feeder networks are in place and adequate buses are run by Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC), the Metro might not be favoured by a large section of the population.

In an interview given to The Hindu, N. Sivasailam, Managing Director, BMRCL, stressed the importance of last-mile connectivity. He said: Metro is one transport mode. The system works best when all the public transport modes are integrated and work together. Even the autorickshaw, which is nothing but a private provision of public transport, has a role, as does the BMTC.

With its perennial traffic snarls, Bangalore desperately needed something like the Metro. According to data from the Bangalore Road Transport Office, more than a thousand vehicles (two-wheelers and four-wheelers) are added to the city every day. Roads in the city are not equipped to handle the vehicular load that they do at present. While the roads have a capacity to handle only seven lakh vehicles, the vehicular load currently is more than 30 lakh.

The stretch that has been inaugurated connects the heart of the city, M.G. Road, with Byappanahalli. While it takes between 30 minutes and an hour by road, the Metro service can traverse the distance in 13 minutes.

A day after the launch, Delhi Metro chief Sreedharan said that for the Metro to be efficient, travellers needed to be responsible while riding it.

While it is too early to compare Namma Metro with the Delhi Metro in terms of efficacy, the former has two distinct engineering novelties. First, it has much sharper curves. While in the Delhi Metro the minimum curvature is 200 degrees, there are 120-degree curves at several places on the Bangalore Metro route. This is partly because roads are narrower in Bangalore. Second, instead of overhead electric cables, such as the ones that the Delhi Metro has, Namma Metro has a 750-volt DC third rail system to supply power to the train. (The third rail technology provides electric power to a train through an inverted U-shaped insulated conductor placed alongside the track. The metro train is powered by a connector that slides along the third rail.)

Namma Metro has changed the city's landscape forever. Real estate prices along the train corridor have shot up. Shopkeepers whose businesses were affected are more cheerful now with the inauguration of the first stretch. When work began in April 2007, the first casualty was the wide promenade on M.G. Road. As work progressed, the Metro met with more objections about the manner in which it was bulldozing through parts of the city and destroying the environment. But with the first Reach now open, the voices of protest have been quelled for the time being.

Local newspapers and television news anchors are commenting non-stop about how Bangalore has joined the league of world-class cities after the launch of the Metro. It seems to be an optimistic evaluation of the Metro. Only the completion of the entire section will provide an idea of its true potential.