October 20, 2011 12:01:02 am
On the mass rapid transit system in Singapore,one of the oldest Metro rail systems in these parts of the world at well over 30 years now,an average working-class person does not carry the baggage of commuting worries that people do in burgeoning cities serviced by poor public transport and road systems.
Worries like whether one can get to work on time,whether a rickshaw,cab or a bus will be available,whether the trains will be too crowded or whether the roads will be clogged with traffic have disappeared with an efficient,clockwork Metro rail system. The Metro in Singapore and the light rail system in Californias Silicon Valley,like the Delhi Metro,have given the people there a certain predictability in their routines.
On Thursday,Bangalore,a city that has in the past aspired to be like Singapore and which,as the home to Indias IT services industry,is sometimes referred to as a silicon valley,will get a bit of the backbone of its own mass transit system rolling.
The 6.7-km elevated rail section that will be opened is just one tiny vertebra on a proposed 42-km network. The Namma Metro network will service two corridors,east-west and north-south; on top of it are planned further extensions and a 37-km,high-speed rail link to the new international airport. The Bangalore Metro Rail Corporations inaugural section will be a six-station,14-minute run,mostly in the central business district. The rest of it is scheduled to come by December 2014.
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The Bangalore Metro was conceived in 2003 when the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation prepared a detailed project report and proposed two double-line corridors totalling 33 km.
The idea came into being after the collapse,due to reasons of financial viability,of a 1996 agreement between the Government of Karnataka and Vijay Mallyas United Breweries group to create a 25-km,elevated light rail system in Bangalore. The 74:26 venture between UB and the state governments Bangalore Mass Rapid Transit Ltd would have been a build-own-operate-transfer project that,it was estimated,would cost in the region of Rs 3,500 crore.
The Metro proposal was finally cleared in March 2005 by the Dharam Singh-H D Kumaraswamy-led Congress-JDS government,with a huge push from UPA-I,even as the citys traffic situation plunged into chaos with a nearly 20-lakh population surge in the first half of the decade.
When cleared by the public investment board of the Centre in 2005,the cost of the Metro was estimated in the region of Rs 5,747 crore. The cost over the initially proposed 33 km is now Rs 6,395 crore,while the 9-km-plus extension is estimated at Rs 1,763 crore,putting the total at Rs 8,158 crore. The term debt component of the GoI-GoK project is Rs 3,671 crore.
According to N Sivasailam,the third and current managing director of the BMRC,70 per cent of the work for the 33-km elevated stretches is over. The project will still take at least another two years to complete because the 9 km remaining around central Bangalore goes underground and work here will need time,he says.
The teaser 6.7-km elevated stretch to be inaugurated on Thursday had been in the making since 2006,when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had laid its foundation stone. Much of it is,incidentally,between this correspondents home and workplace. Over the last five years,residents have avoided the construction area due to the state of the roads and the traffic jams around the site much like how those living near areas around the unfinished parts do these days. The shelter of the Metros over-arch into central Bangalore has been an attraction only on rainy days.
The 6.7-km stretch has had its share of mishaps through the construction phase. One afternoon,while passing by a construction area,this correspondent saw a wooden scaffolding collapse and bring down with it the lone worker who stood on top. He was trapped by a pile of wood,iron and cement bags he screamed for help and then fainted even as his colleagues and others extricated him. He was bundled unconscious into a rickshaw and taken to hospital.
His colleagues said he was a mason from Jharkhand who sent all his earnings home to his wife and children. He survived the accident. Two other workers had not been so lucky a few days earlier when,2 km away,a cement mixer collapsed.
Over the last five years,agitations against the acquisition of commercial properties in the line of the Metro,once heated,have been subdued in the courts. Over the last few weeks,the roads around the teaser stretch have been tarred and become good for motoring again. The value of property in the Metros shadow region is booming again,say realtors.
While the 6.7-km section will not service the hordes of IT sector employees who live and work around Bangalore it does not really touch the IT regions it will service office-goers in banks and in the government,shoppers and hundreds of students who typically commute on the stretch.
On weekends,it is expected to be a joyride and a shoppers delight,since MG Road and Indiranagar,both in the initial phase,are expected to turn into bigger shopping paradises.
For senior citizens and schoolchildren,who often bear the brunt of the brutal road conditions and limited public transport options,the first phase is expected to provide much solace. At a maximum of Rs 15 and a minimum of Rs 10 for the journey across the six stations,the Metros fare structure is being considered a bargain for an unhindered 15-minute journey,compared to Rs 45 in an autorickshaw or Rs 10 on a bus for a stop-start 40-minute trip.
BMRC officials say the three-carriage metro will be able to carry a total of 1,000 passengers per trip and trains will run at 10-minute intervals during peak hours and 15-minute intervals at other times. At full tilt,the train can travel at 80 km per hour; the frequency can be three minutes. The Metro is projected to carry 10.20 lakh people over the next 12 months.
All coaches and the six stations are under camera surveillance from a master control room and people will only be allowed to stay at a station for a maximum of 20 minutes. The fine for littering has been put at Rs 1,000.
Spacious,classy and commuter-friendly is how a senior editor of a local newspaper described it after the test run.
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