Increasing population and traffic have always been the biggest concerns in developing cities. Chennai Metropolitan Area with an aggregate population of 70.41lakhs (2001 Census) is very dense within the corporation limit. The city has a very diverse transportation network with the city buses, suburban trains, MRTS and now (the metro and BRTS in offing) interlinking the city.
Although the city has upgraded its transport infrastructure (suburban train to be specific) well in advance of the assessed ridership demand the challenge for the urban planners and transport engineers to ease traffic congestion is far from over.
With the formation of Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority, integrating inter-modal transport services is expected to improve and commuters can travel more conveniently by shifting modes to reach their destinations. The concern for the Chennai metro rail is their present route and the cost of commuting.
Snapshot of the CMRL:
Chennai Metro Rail Limited(CMRL) is a special purpose vehicle and a joint venture of the Tamil Nadu State and the central government. The estimated project cost is around Rs. 14,000 Cr of which 41% is being funded by the centre and the state government equally and the remaining is through a loan from Japanese International Cooperation Agency. The first phase of the project is divided in two corridors spanning 45kms of which 24 km is underground and 21km is elevated. The cost of constructing each kilometre of underground tunnel is Rs.300 Cr compared to Rs. 100 Cr for the elevated track. Each corridor has 17 stations with Central and Alandur stations featuring in both the routes.
Corridor 1: Wahermanpet, Mannadi, High Court, Central, Secretariat (new), LIC, Thousand lights, Gemini, Teynampet, Chamiers Road, and Saidapet will be underground. While the Little mount, Guindy, Alandur, Officer training academy, Meenambakkam and Airport will be elevated.
Corridor 2: Central, Egmore, Nehru Park, Kilpauk Medical college, Pachaiyappa’s college, Shenoy nagar, Annanagar East, Annanagar tower, Thirumangalam will be underground. While Koyembedu, CMBT, Arumbakkam, Vadapalani,Ashok Nagar, KK Nagar, SIDCO, Alandur and St. Thomas mount are elevated.
The main motive of this route was to link all the important gateways of the city which are already well connected through the bus and train services. Although, Metro has adopted a clean and energy efficient way of functioning, its capital, operation and maintenance costs are expected to be very high. However, a few concerns continue to remain unanswered:
1. No public meetings held: Chennai Metro is considered a landmark project involving huge amount of funds and considerable realignment of the city landscape and yet the people in the city had no say on the route or the making of the project. Most of the project is being built on the public land owned by railways, state and central government but a few hundred families will get displaced in the process. The CMRL claims to have adequately compensated the project affected parties and have had meetings with the affected parties alone.
2. Integration with the MRTS/ Suburban/ City buses: Both the corridors run almost parallel and in close proximity to the suburban train running from Chennai Beach to Tambaram station.
Corridor 1: intersects the suburban train at St.Thomas Mount and the MRTS at Chintadripet. The bus frequency plying on the Mount Road connecting Chintadripet (MRTS) to Saidapet suburban train is good, and adding a metro on this route will eat into the ridership of the buses and trains in the normal hours.
Corridor 2: from Kilpauk Medical College till the central station and from officer training academy to airport the metro runs parallel to the suburban train. The metro could have integrated this route with the existing suburban route and saved public money. The CMBT and Thirumangalam are well connected with the central station with frequent bus services and little congestion on the roads.
3. Unnecessary added Expenses: The metro runs below the Anna and E.V.R. Salai while it runs on an elevated track on the Jawaharlal Nehru Road (Inner Ring Road) although all are equally wide. The underground construction costs three times more than the elevated track and also raises safety concerns at nights.
4. Non Inclusive mode of transport: The metro is a sophisticated and comparatively more expensive mode of transport than the bus. This will deter the average commuter from using it. The metro will have strict safety norms which might dissuade the vendors to carry their merchandise for their business.
However, it is expected that the commuters will switch from their two and four wheelers to metro reducing congestion on these roads and helping in better road and traffic management. Although, inadequate parking facility for two and four wheelers on the trunk road, might flood the abutting streets with vehicles to become a potential traffic bottleneck.
5. Accessibility: As the sidewalks on the arterial roads are narrow the access to the metro (a grade separator) will further reduce its width and the pedestrians will get further marginalised.
It has also been observed that the narrow roads feeding ridership to the suburban trains and MRTS get clogged due to heavy vehicular traffic. Nelson Manickam road and South Usman road are a few feeder roads that get clogged.
The metro was successful in Delhi because of its coverage and the bus services were unable to meet the demand. Moreover, the vehicular density in Delhi is amongst the highest which clogged the city roads hence the metro proved as the best alternative. In Chennai the buses and the suburban trains complement each other but its capacity is reaching its upper limit. The advent of metro will decongest the roads and will certainly share the burden of the buses to provide a better travel experience in future. While, the advent of metro is expected to shift motorists into using public transport, and reduce congestion, its development should also reduce vulnerability of the poor and marginalised.