It may have been late, but Namma Metro (‘Our Metro’ in Kannada) promises to be a game-changer for Bengaluru’s commuters if their response to the East-West corridor becoming operational is anything to go by.
The 18.1-km route includes a 4.8-km underground stretch—inaugurated three weeks ago— with the journey taking merely 40 minutes as against the almost two hours by road.
What the IT city’s 10-million citizens await now is the inauguration of the entire 24.2-km North-South corridor— scheduled for November 1, it would mark the completion of Phase-1 (42.3 km) of the project.
But it certainly hasn’t been a smooth ride for the project. Though civil works began in April 2007, it was slow going for the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation (BMRCL) which managed to complete work on only 33 km in nine years—far slower than the Delhi Metro—with project deadlines being extended several times. The delays saw the project costs nearly double to R13,845 crore from the original R8,158 crore.
BMRCL came in for flak recently from E Sreedharan, the former chief of the Delhi Metro. “My major worry about the Bangalore Metro is whether it can be a financially sustainable project given the delays in various sections. Estimates have it that costs have gone up 60%. If so, can Bangalore Metro repay its loans and interest? It is working like an ailing public sector unit,” Sreedharan told reporters during a recent visit to Bengaluru.
He also criticised bureaucrats being made to head metro projects. “The Lucknow and Kochi metros are doing very well as both have technocrats heading the organisations. IAS officers do not know the technicalities of metro projects and can’t take on-the-spot decisions,” he felt.
Pradeep Singh Kharola, the managing director of BMRCL, says the project was delayed mainly on account of the difficult terrain of the Deccan Plateau, with the 4.8 km underground stretch on the East- West Corridor taking four years to build.
As for cost escalation, BMRCL says this happened also because of the extension of Phase-1. “When the original estimates were drawn up, the first phase was only 33 km in length; this was later extended to 42.3 km. Besides, land compensation was calculated at 2005 rates, while we paid more in later years. All the other estimates were at 2007 rates, which have since gone up,” an official points out.
Will there be more delays? Kharola sounds confident of Phase-1—behind schedule by at least two and a half years—being made fully operational by November 1, the foundation day of Karnataka.
Encouraged by the response on the East-West Corridor—since its opening the corridor has seen a daily ridership of 100,000— the BMRCL is planning to increase train frequency to one every 8 minutes, besides adding more coaches to each train, says UA Vasant Rao, BMRCL spokesperson.
On ridership for the Metro as a whole, Kharola says, “At present, about 55,000 people are using Metro service on Reach 1 and 3. With the commissioning of Reach 2 and the entire East-West corridor, we expect the ridership to touch 200,000.”
He adds that once the ridership reaches half a million on a daily basis, the corporation would be able to service its debt and manage operational expenses. At present, BMRCL is paying R2 crore a day as interest on its debt.
With regard to Phase-2 of the project, Kharola says, “we have started awarding contracts for the extension of the Mysore Road end to Kengeri and on the Kanakapura Road end. We hope to complete the 72-km length of Phase-2 by the year 2021.”
This phase would have 12 km of underground tracks, for which work is yet to start. However, the corporation believes this would not be as difficult as in the first phase because of the expertise it has gained over the years.
Given the Phase-1 experience, it is anybody’s guess how true that claim will prove to be.