Connecting the Suburbs: Bengaluru’s suburban rail project finally kicks off

Bengaluru’s suburban rail project finally kicks off

Bengaluru, the country’s largest information technology (IT) hub, offers increasing employment opportunities and expects to emerge as a global technology hub in the future. These opportunities bring with them an influx of migrants from other parts of the country, resulting in greater urbanisation. With rising income levels and improving living standards, the city has also witnessed an exponential growth in the number of registered vehicles. This has increased traffic congestion and reduced average speeds. These woes have necessitated an alternative transportation system in the city. Thus, setting up a suburban rail system could aid in improving the quality of public transportation. However, there have been inordinate delays in the formation of a special purpose vehicle (SPV) for the implementation of the Bengaluru suburban rail project. Early this year, the Ministry of Railways (MoR) and the central government accorded in-principle approval for the formation of an SPV. Further, Union Budget 2018-19 earmarked funds worth Rs 170 billion for the project.

Background and history

The Bengaluru suburban railway system was first proposed in 1983. In the same year, South Western Railway prepared the first report on the need for a suburban rail system in the city. This was followed by a series of reports on urban transport for Bengaluru by RITES Limited (1989, 1998, 2007, 2012), the Karnataka government (1993), and Wilbur Smith Associates (2010). The latest report, which was prepared in 2015 and updated in 2017, primarily focuses on the ways to construct elevated tracks for a suburban rail network.

Meanwhile, the Karnataka government and the MoR signed an MoU to set up a joint venture (JV) in 2000. The JV, Karnataka Rail Infrastructure Development Company Limited (KRIDE), was formed primarily to develop and implement rail infrastructure projects in Karnataka with private sector participation.

Progress so far

The Bengaluru suburban rail system was first approved in 2013-14. However, not much progress on the project was witnessed thereafter. Meanwhile, to help ease traffic congestion, one of the steps taken by IR was the development of the Baiyyappanahalli new terminal in two phases in 2015-16. At present, the construction of seven platforms, five stabling lines, three pit lines and a station building is in progress. The project is scheduled to be completed by December 2019.

In January 2018, in-principle approval was received from the MoR and the cabinet to set up an SPV for the Bengaluru suburban rail system. The Karnataka government also sanctioned Rs 3.5 billion for the first phase of the project. IR and the state government will hold a share of 51 per cent and 49 per cent, respectively, in the new SPV. This will eliminate the need for private sector participation in the project, which had held up project implementation for years.

In 2018-19, a number of projects were approved under the Bengaluru suburban rail system. These include the quadrupling of railway lines from Bengaluru Cantonment to Whitefield covering a total length of 19 km, at an estimated cost of Rs 5.05 billion; doubling of the 22 km Yesvantpur-Hebbal-Banaswadi-Baiyyappanahalli rail line, at an estimated cost of Rs 1.69 billion; doubling of railway lines between Baiyyappanahalli and Hosur covering 48 km, at an estimated cost of Rs 3.75 billion; and Bengaluru yard remodelling, at a cost of Rs 135.5 million.

The way forward

After years of delay, the recent initiatives taken by IR have once again brought the Bengaluru suburban rail system into focus. However, successful project implementation will depend on the successful formation of the SPV and timely implementation of various project components. That said, as traffic congestion in the city continues to worsen, there is an urgent need to set up other dedicated suburban rail systems catering to urban areas not covered under the project.

Based on a presentation by Colonel S. Gagarin, Chief Executive Officer, KRIDE, at a recent India Infrastructure conference