BENGALURU: At 8.30 am on a lazy Saturday morning, the Cantonment Railway Station was abuzz with students, teachers, homemakers, senior citizens and scores of citizens of the city, who had gathered to make a strong case for a robust suburban rail service, which would go a long way in easing Bengaluru’s traffic woes. The diverse crowd united under the banner ‘Chuku Buku Beku’ campaign organised by the Citizens for Bengaluru (CfB) group.
CfB is mobilising support for the suburban rail network, which the group is mooting as an alternative to the controversial steel flyover, which the government is proposing to build between Basaveshwara Circle and Esteem Mall, besides other small flyovers across the city. Nearly 150 citizens boarded the Bengaluru-Bangarpet (Bangarpet passenger) train at various stops along its route – Byappanahalli, Bengaluru East, KR Puram. All of them disembarked at Whitefield. Despite a delay of 45 minutes, the train was greeted with loud cheers from students at the Bengaluru East station.
Roopa Krishnamurthy, 30, an architect from Srirampuram, recalled an incident that occurred last year wherein she hurt her knee trying to avoid a pothole. “My family members forced me into buying a car. However, the pain resurfaces when I drive, and I switched to BMTC. My house is a stone’s throw away from the Malleswaram metro station. But, the stretch from Sampige Road to Majestic is not open, which is a problem. I want the suburban train,” said Krishnamurthy.
Although the crowd that had gathered at the Cantonment station, had different reasons for seeking a more efficient public transport system, the demand for the suburban train network was uttered in a single voice. Savitha S Rao, a homemaker from Rajarajeshwari Nagar travelled to Byappanahalli by Metro, before taking the passenger train to Whitefield. “Traffic throws life out of gear in the city, and this hurts me as a citizen. My children and husband spend hours on the road because of the traffic,” said Savitha, who was accompanied by her two sons.
Actor and CfB member Prakash Belawadi said, “The energy that we witnessed today proves that the city is alive.”
Muralidhar Rao and Satya from Praja, a citizen activist group that has been demanding commuter rail for years, opined that the steel flyover project had awakened citizens of the city to the need for a suburban train network. “This is a great victory for Bengalureans,” said Rao.
Push project ahead of Union Budget: Experts
Experts in the domain of railway infrastructure point out that the onus is now on the state government to push for commuter rail system, ahead of next year’s Union Budget. A member of the Divisional Railway Users’ Consultative Committee (DRUCC) in Bengaluru, Prakash Mandoth said, “The railway board has put the ball in the state government’s court. The issue should be pursued zealously in the next month, ahead of the budget, since the Railway Budget has been incorporated within the Union Budget now.”
He added that the board had taken cognisance of the increasing demand for suburban rail from all states, and was formulating a policy that would satisfy all. “However, Karnataka will have to pursue the issue proactively, since it is the biggest stakeholder as far as implementing the project in Bengaluru is concerned. Getting land for expansion of rail is the most important task, which is under the state’s purview. The Railways is the implementing authority. RITES – the subsidiary consultancy will prepare the detailed project report and start work once land has been acquired,” Mandoth said.
He pointed out that the Railways did not have the monetary sources to fund suburban projects in all states. “Their contribution will be about 20%. One of the suggestions in the draft policy is that the states will have to contribute 20% of the cost, and take loans for the remaining 60%. If the government had listened to our demands earlier, the cost of the entire project would have been just Rs 990 crore,” Mandoth added.
Bring back the old Bengaluru
For many old Bengalureans, the suburban rail network holds the promise of ushering in a more tranquil city, one they grew up around and have fond memories of. The sexagenarian, Supriya Dasgupta has been a resident of the city for the past 35 years. “Development has cost the city its aesthetic. The authorities gave more importance to road transport, and the infrastructure never matched the city’s needs. I am not saying a suburban rail can be built easily in a circular city like Bengaluru. But, better late than ever,” she said.
Born and raised in Malleswaram, 63-year-old Nagamani S Rao too took the Rail Yatra from Cantonment on Saturday. “My only grouse is that the authorities failed to plan the city’s infrastructure, even after they knew it was set to become the country’s IT capital,” she said.
Ros Jones, an expat who has been living in Bengaluru for over a decade bemoaned the loss of the city’s once lush green cover.
Jayalakshmi BK, a former bank employee, joined CfB to protest against the steel flyover. “It was painful to hear that the BDA would cut 812 trees for the steel flyover. I believe that flyovers won’t help the city. A local train service will,” she said.
Software professionals want to save travel time
Niranjan TS, a resident of Sahakarnagar and Aditya Kumar from Rajajingar, complained that it took them between 90 minutes to two hours to go to Whitefield, where they work. A suburban rail system would, besides reducing travel time, also redress the imbalance in the work-life cycle, they said.
A founding member of Whitefield Rising, Nitya Ramakrishna said that a robust commuter rail network would save money and time, not just for residents of Whitefield, but for citizens across the city.”Whether it’s a software professional, a maid or anybody who has to come to Whitefield, suburban rail will save time and money for all of us,” she said.
Tushar Kapila, a software professional, who travels regularly on the metro, said, “I met a vendor near the National Military Memorial, in the heart of the city, whose relies heavily on local train. I realised that a suburban rail network would benefit a lot of people. Also, it’s high time public transport services were integrated.”
Deepa S, a student of class five, accompanied her father from Basavanagudi to board the Bangarpet passenger at Byappanahalli. Sharing her experience about her first local train journey, she said, “We are given projects at school, about how we can make Bengaluru green. While we work on these projects at home, I talk to my parents about the impact of traffic. A suburban rail system will ease congestion, and reduce pollution. This will usher in a better future.”
Students from mount Carmel College, who turned up in large numbers to take the Rail Yatra, said that local train connectivity would also make for an affordable mode of transport. “Some of our friends take the local train from Cantonment to Whitefield. They complete the journey in 25 minutes! On the other hand, we struggle to change buses, fight with auto drivers and get delayed because of traffic. Suburban trains will make a lot of difference to students. It’s a lot cheaper too,” said Gowri Dixit, an arts student at MCC.
Suburban train and also make HAL airport a true low cost airport. A lot of city mess will be solved.
Bengaluru Needs You (BNY), a citizen movement led by MP MV Rajeev Gowda, too launched a protest. Interestingly, the protest was against CfB, and the Chuku Buku Beku campaign. BNY member Raghu Doddeneri said, “Why are these people against the steel flyover? We want both – the steel flyover and commuter rail. We need the flyover to decongest Ballari Road, which would, in turn, ensure seamless connectivity to the airport. The project was first proposed by the BJP government. They couldn’t implement it. But, the Congress government has taken it up. BJP should not politicise the issue.”