Mamata’s Budget: Why not MRTS and Urban Rail as distinct entities?

Kodambakkam, Chennai suburban station
This scene shows the backward state of Chennai's suburban rail stations. A handicapped man has to go up the staircase at Kodambakkam station on all fours. Why cannot this be modernised with escalators and lifts? Photo: G.Ananthakrishnan

Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, in her Budget speech today, announced that Rs. 13 billion will be made available for passenger amenities, up from about Rs.9 billion a year ago.

Leaving aside the question of quality of returns from investment, I am concerned whether money will be spent on key aspects of suburban rail in many cities, including Chennai, where the Ministry operates suburban rail lines and an MRTS system with incomplete station infrastructure.

1. Entry and exit systems to be modernised – renew stairways, provide escalators and lifts.

2. Improved information systems – the train and ticketing information is poorly displayed or non-existent, even on so-called modern systems like MRTS in Chennai.

3. Augment park-and-ride, pulling it out of the decrepit state of the colonial era – rebuild parking spaces for two-wheelers and cars, with adequate lighting, smooth paving, monitoring personnel and information. Stop the corrupt contractor-raj.

Finally, the Minister does not seem to have addressed the question of making the railways a part of urban transit regulatory bodies proposed (and in some cases notified) under the National Urban Transport Policy of the UPA Government. This is necessary to protect rider interest, innovate on ticketing options and maintain contact with commuter bodies.

It is important to point out that although the DMK Government has been drawing funds from the Centre to renew its bus fleet,  it has adamantly refused to integrate its MTC bus service with suburban railway stations. All the MRTS stations have provision for buses to connect with, but the MTC has refused to provide the links.

Given the fact that the feeder system, the autorickshaws, are beyond the pale of all administrative authority in Chennai, the commuters are left with no alternative but to submit to extortion. The transport regulator should technically ensure that this feeder system is managed properly.


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