Political consensus puts Kerala bullet train on fast track

Written by M Sarita Varma | Thiruvananthapuram | Updated: Feb 14 2012, 12:14pm hrs
The Oommen Chandy government in Kerala has pulled up its socks on the realisation of its R1.18 lakh crore high-speed rail corridor connecting Thiruvananthapuram in the south to Kasargod in the north with bullet trains. At an all-party meeting held on Monday, the ruling UDF managed to garner the much- needed political consensus to go ahead with the preparation of the detailed project report (DPR).

The DPR is expected before August, chief minister Chandy told FE. After initial hiccups, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), entrusted to do the feasibility study, has found the project was technically and financially viable.

Now the ball is in the DMRC court. We will urge them to come out with the DPR at the earliest, he said.

Last week, after a meeting between Pulok Chatterjee, principal secretary to the Prime Minister and Kerala chief secretary P Prabhakaran in Delhi, the Centre had given the green signal to Kerala to continue with the project. The proposed corridor would span 560 km, set up on 13-metre wide pillars.

However, as a public-private participation project (PPP), the plan needs Opposition LDF's support in a state that tends to change its leadership every five years. Opposition leader VS Achuthananthan, while giving in-principle agreement to the project, had a volley of questions about it.

Achuthanandan had sought details on the compensation package for potential land-evictees. He had also wanted to know the interest rate of the loan that would fund the ambitious infrastructure project.

The government tentatively plans to tap the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) for credit and Indian Railways and DMRC for technical support, the chief minister said. But the funding pattern is yet to be finalised, he added. About 552 hectares will be needed for the project. For this, 4,500 families will have to be displaced. The UDF government told the Opposition that it will work out more details on the compensation package, alignment of the rail corridor, interest payment and modalities to pay back the credit and get together for another round of all-party brainstorming in a fortnight or two.

With the rail corridor, a traveller from the business city Kochi could reach capital Thiruvananthapuram within 20 minutes, instead of the present four to five hours. The cost of this journey, by 2011-based calculations, is likely to be approximately Rs 1,000 per ticket, says T Balakrishnan, chairman and managing director, Kerala High Speed Rail Corporation. According to the project implementation calendar, the high-speed rail corridor will formally take off on April 2013. When it is fully commissioned by March 2020, the train will be able to carry 817 passengers per journey.