Tuesday, October 30, 2007

International Airport Rail Link: Alternate Alignment

Deccan Herald and The Hindu recently reported on a presentation/lecture by S N Venkata Rao, advisor and project director, Delhi Metro Rail Corporate about the proposed ‘High speed rail link from city centre to new international airport at Bangalore (Devanahalli)’ .

DMRC Proposal
The proposed route would probably look like this (my educated guess since the map in newspaper was not of a fine granularity).

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The starting station would be built on the Police Grounds, adjacent to Chinnaswamy Circket Stadium. It's not clear whether it would pass by the Raj Bhavan or circumvent that, but further on it would probably go along Sankey Road, passing by Bangalore Golf Club, the Windsor Manor and Palace Grounds to Mekhri Circle, further on toward the Hebbal Flyover and continue on along Bellary Road towards the Airport. Given DMRC preference of late, it is proabable that the entire route will be elevated.
There would be limited stops at Hebbal and Yellahanka.

So what's the problem ?!
A rail link to the new airport is an absolute must-have. The devil, as always, is in the detail.

Problem 1.
The location of the starting station or 'city air terminal' is the Police Ground between MG and Cubbon Road. I have a huge problem with that. This will be the loss of one more of our precious and fast disappearing open spaces. Moreover, this is among the few playing areas in the heart of the city which are still accessible to the members of the public, as witnessed by usual early morning cricket games. You can't play in Cubbon Park, and definitely not in Chinnaswamy Stadium unless you are in the cricketing elite.
It is not clear how much of the ground will be lost, but with a large canvas available, the plans are likely to be elaborate. If we don't speak up now, this one is a goner.
BMRC has a large and better situated plot at their disposal a mere frisbee toss away. The Plaza theatre is beautifully situated on MG Road, has a reasonably large plot size, plus additional access to Church Street at the back. It is to serve as station on the Line 1, but is clearly an overkill for such a limited purpose. Integrating the starting point of the airport link into Plaza will better utilize this property. Moreover, it will seamlessly integrate the Airport Link with the rest of the Metro network. Potentially, a traveler (with limited luggage) could board the Metro at any point between Mysore Road and Old Madras, get off at Plaza, go down a level and catch the airport train. The Police Ground plan introduces a small but inconvenient gap between the two lines, which will force people to walk or take a rick to bridge the gap, adversely affecting ridership.

Problem 2
This alignment is the exact same road most of Bangalore is going to take to get to the new Airport. It is already a high traffic corridor, barely 2 lanes in either direction most of the way, and is likely to turn nightmarish come April 08 when Devenahalli is functional. Now imagine that to add to this situation, you start construction along the median, taking out a lane on either side, probably more if we go by the experience of current construction on MG Road. I agree that it is short term pain for long term benefit, but we are talking about 18 months to 2 years here.

Problem 3:
Significant land acquisition required for widening the road before construction can even start would affect the tree rich grounds of the Golf Club and the Palace. Mr. Rao himself gives a figure of 231 trees, which is likely to be an underestimate in my reckoning.

Problem 4:
This alignment passes by the densely populated suburbs of RT Nagar, Sanjay Nagar, Palace Guttahalli, Sahakar Nagar etc. The residents of these places will suffer during the construction phase without getting any benefit at completion. There are no stations close to where they live, so while they can see the trains zipping past tantalisingly closeby, there is no way for them to get on to it and head towards the CBD. Moreover, given that the only viable route along the arterial Bellary/Sankey Road has been taken for the Airport link, there is not even the hope that a line built at a later stage would serve them.

Solution to 2,34?
It is easy to find fault but what is the solution! Without the expertise and information available to the DMRC, it is difficult to come up with a viable alternative, but I have taken a shot at one, with the intent of throwing up ideas for discussion and debate.

So here's my route.
Complete Route Town Centre Detail

View Larger Map

View Larger Map
How it's different !
For one, it starts off at Plaza on MG Road, so no loss of open space.
It will have to tunnel underground from here, going below Parade Ground, till it hits Central Street. It will go along Central Street to the Shivaji Nagar Bus Depot (potentially another intermodal connection point), and continues on Northwards, mostly underground through this congested locality, till it hits Tannery Road where it could come above ground. At this point, it's route will converge with a line of Phase 2 (as reported in a local Kannada paper), which quoted Madhu (BMRC MD) as saying the line would be from Marathahalli to Yellahanka via Tannery Road. As the lines converge, it will become 4 tracks with the express tracks (airport link) in the centre, flanked by the local tracks. In an Express-Local or Fast-Slow arrangement similiar to the NY Metro, the regular trains would stop at every station while the express trains would stop at every third station. People could change from local to express (or vice versa) just by going from one side of the platform to the other - Bombay has a similar arrangement, but changing from fast to slow involves going up one flight of stairs and going down another, which is sub-optimal.
The route thus goes due North along the same road, variously called Tannery Road, Arabic College Road, Nagaware Road etc. At some point, the local line will veer left towards Yellahanka while the express line continues towards the airport.

Ticket fares for people not going to the airport will be in line with that for other metro routes. Those boarding/disembarking at the airport pay a premium (50 to 100 bucks) over regular fares to make the route viable.

Drawbacks of the alternative route
Cost will be higher since some part of the route will need to be underground. The overground part may need land acquisition if there are 4 tracks instead of 2.
It is still worth exploring seriously since
1) It preserves open space
2) Fewer trees will be sacrificed
3) It serves the local community as well as the airport bound traffic.

Let's make things better.