Decks are being cleared for the launch of India’s eighth and Kerala’s first metro rail network in the state’s financial capital and nerve centre of Kochi. The first set of coaches arrived in the city last week and a test run will be conducted in the presence of Chief Minister Oommen Chandy on January 23, top officials at Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL) told IndianExpress.com.
“We will take the train on the viaduct next month. The operational date, depending on clearance from safety commissioners, will be sometime in August-September. We hope to make at least the stretch between Aluva and Edapally operational by then,” said Reshmi CR, head of corporate communications at KMRL.
Built at a staggering cost of Rs 5,181 crore, the metro line will span 25 km from Aluva to Pettah across 22 stations, coursing through some of the busiest roads in the city. The metro is proposed to cut the average travel time for a commuter from nearly 2 hours now to just 40 minutes. The initial ridership is estimated to be 1.5 lakh passengers a day which will reportedly soar to 6 lakh by 2030.
Kochi was the first Tier-II city to be sanctioned a metro rail project by the Centre during the previous Manmohan Singh regime. After being elected to power in 2011, the Congress government in the state led by Ooommen Chandy has touted the completion of the project a prestige issue and as a testament to its commitment to build much-needed infrastructure in the state. Battled by graft and allegations of inefficiency, the Congress government would find the completion of the project heartening as the state goes for polls later this year.
The metro project, built on a PPP model between the Centre and state governments, has DMRC (Delhi Metro Rail Corporation) as the implementing agency and E Sreedharan, the man who single-handedly conceived the Delhi metro, as the principal advisor to the DMRC. Although initial stages of the project involved intense wrangling between the state and DMRC, the issues were resolved after a change in management.
Officials at KMRL insisted that the role of Sreedharan, who hails from Kerala, managed to assuage the feelings of the people about the project. “Land acquisition was fast and smooth. People were happy that Sreedharan was on board. With him in the saddle, they knew the project would happen,” said Reshmi.
The coaches for the train were ‘made in India’ by Alstom, a French company, at the Sri City facility in Andhra Pradesh. The company is contracted to supply KMRL 25 standard gauge trains with three cars each with a capacity to carry 975 passengers. The trains are also equipped to be driver-less in future if required. KMRL’s consultant department worked in close tandem with Alstom India on the design of the coaches to give it a traditional and authentic look.
Officials said the coaches would be designed in light blue livery with depictions of Kerala’s art and culture on its sides. Six major stations will adopt themes that will incorporate the cultural imprints of the city as well as the state as it went through decades of colonial rule before Indian independence. For example, the station near Edapally will focus on the work and contributions of legendary Malayalam poet Changampuzha, who was born and raised here. In addition, the KMRL will also play out a running theme based on the preservation of Western Ghats, the mountain range critical to Kerala’s natural bounty.
As for the ticketing system, KMRL has entered into a PPP deal with Axis Bank Limited with a stipulation that the latter will undertake the entire investment for the Automatic Fare Collection system. Axis Bank will also pay an additional royalty of Rs 209 crore over the next ten years in this partnership. In return, the smart cards issued by KMRL will be co-branded with Axis Bank and can be used for cash-less transaction along with ticketing purposes.
“This smart card can be linked with any bank account of the user, in any Bank, including the Jan-Dhan Yojana,” said, Elias George, MD, KMRL in a statement.
But more than anything, KMRL hopes to use the metro project not just in solving the city’s traffic woes, but also as a grander platform for an integrated public transportation system that will link the city’s famed ferries and bus services.
“The integrated system will allow us to not be Delhi, where you have to resort to an odd-even rule. Within the system, we will have the Metro, KURTC buses and ferries all running on similar timetables so that traffic will be seamless across the city,” added Reshmi.
Ferries have long been a part of Kochi’s transportation grid with frequent services to nearby islands of Vypeen, Mattanchery, Bolghatty and Fort Kochi. The integration project, that got the sanction of the Centre, is ambitious in nature and aims to introduce air-conditioned and WiFi enabled modern ferries on popular routes. Estimated at a cost of Rs 741 crores, this project is proposed to get operationalised in 2019.
At a time when public transportation models are being overhauled to check for pollution norms, if governments can complete infrastructure projects such as these in time with minimum cost overload, it will go a long way in making our cities greener and healthy in the long term.