Chennai, where the Metro Rail network expands after a protracted delay

After a protracted delay, Chennai Metro Rail phase I, stretching around 45 km of the city, was completed, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurating the final 10 km stretch from AG-DMS to Washermanpet on February 10. The line joins north Chennai with the airport through the Chennai Central railway station and runs through the arterial Anna Salai, serving what is perhaps the busiest stretch of the city.

After the Union government accorded approval to this project in January 2009, it increased towering expectations, with a promise to open both corridors — Chennai Central to St. Thomas Mount and Washermanpet to the airport — by December 2015. But the project was plagued by delays as a chain of pressing matters emerged.

What led to the delays?

Before, there was a delay because of land acquisition. Subsequently, as the issue was ironed out, two contracts had to be terminated because of poor progress of construction. Chennai Metro Rail (CMRL) lost various months in awarding new contracts. Officials said there was difficulty in carrying out tunneling task for the underground network because of unpredictable soil conditions. Plodding along, CMRL managed to get trains running in 45 km of phase I, in sections, over the last four years.

Why is there a lack of patronage?

After the opening of the whole 45 km network, there are between 82,000 and 85,000 people traveling every day. But sources say they had anticipated it to be at least one lakh. A host of factors, including inadequate feeder services such as mini-buses for last-mile connectivity, and high fares (ranging from ₹10 to ₹60) contribute to poor footfalls. There are cycles for last-mile connectivity at many stations, and share autos and share cars too operate, but only at select stations. The Common Ticketing System, where a commuter can use CMRL’s smart cards in buses too, has not been implemented yet.

How can it increase passengers?

GitakrishnanRamadurai, a professor at the IIT-Madras, says, “Firstly, commuters should have access to good footpaths that encourage them to walk to stations or authorities could ensure there are adequate numbers of bicycles at each station. Also, all buses must stop at the respective station in each area so that commuters can easily switch between various modes of transport.” Activists say that unless the fares are reduced at least by another 10%, there may not be an increase in the number of passengers.

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