CHENNAI: The Tamil Nadu government’s aim of implementing Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL) and adopting various schemes to unite the public transportation is no doubt a sustainable alternative to private vehicles like car-based mobility. Though not at present, the projects planned in all departments if implemented well, will prove more beneficial in coming years than now. Considering the public transportation is people-centric and meant to serve for decades, the responsibility falls on the officials to make the transit system inclusive and futuristic.
PHASE 2 EXPANSION
From land acquisitions to barricading to utility identifications, phase II is picking up pace across various locations in the city. Also, in Corridor 4, the Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL) has been actively involved in finishing the ground works to begin laying tracks on priority. With a long network of 128 stations, the phase 2 expansion is undertaken at an estimated cost of Rs 63,246 crore.
Under that, corridor 3 (45.8 km long) has been planned from Madhavaram to SIPCOT and corridor 4 (26.1 km long) has been worked out from Lighthouse to Poonamallee Bypass, while the longest, corridor 5 with 47 km long, is to be operated from Madhavaram to Sholinganallur. This is estimated to be completed by 2026.
The CMRL, which has already completed awarding most tenders and soil testing, is also on the verge of completing land acquisition for the rail construction in the city. So far, of the needed 112.72 hectares, the CMRL has already acquired 93 hectares.
Officials say while some areas could be easily acquired, others like Arcot Road took almost 18 months. They explain the various aspects of planning, stages of construction, traffic studies, the challenging stretch and utilities among others factors for the construction of 118.9 km network, comprising 3 corridors.
MA Siddique, managing director, CMRL, said, “Planning takes the most time, while execution is fairly done faster. Acquiring land is the most challenging; it took us at least two years. Besides that, identifying and diverting utilities is another time consuming and challenging factor.”
He pointed out that traffic studies were held with the Chennai traffic police and plans were sketched out including putting barricades at the right places. “After this, trials are held, and outcomes are studied. During the traffic study in Tirumangalam, we found the traffic pile up was huge in the new route.
So, were worked on a different plan. The process is to, initially test, then barricade and begin the work,” he said. Similarly, if the road is narrow, it’s closed, and vehicles are diverted to new routes. The Kutchery Road in Mylapore was closed and traffic was diverted to a nearby road, for underground station work. Finding viable routes after closing the roads was done by traffic police regularly. “Efforts are taken to divert traffic at vital locations to complete construction works. So far, approximately 20-25 route diversions have been made,” said K Baskaran, Assistant Commissioner of Police (traffic planning).
However, he added that diversion in complicated routes have not even begun yet. “So far, only easy projects have been going on. Complicated traffic routes remain untouched like Mount-Poonamallee road and routes from Nanganallur Metro Station to Keelkattalai, which seemed complicated even during trail run,” he pointed out. But the official is anticipating a minimum 15% traffic reduction after fullfledged Metro operations. “Traffic at Anna Salai and EVR Periyar Salai that had heavy movement before Metro operation is witnessing less vehicle density,” he said.
To undertake the piling activity after barricading, anywhere from 8.5-10 metres of land was essential. In the barricading space, 4.5 metres were left on either side, so that the traffic could be managed without much inconvenience.
To put it in context, 4.5 metres is a metre less than a sari length. There were buildings, businesses, projections and encroachments which took almost 6-7 months for the CMRL to clear and/or realign the space for any project. The real work begins after this, said officials. T Archunan, director (Projects), said, “After barricading, we began the herculean task of identifying utilities like sewers, water pipes, electricity lines and more. These were numbered and alternative routes were planned for realignment. In fact, there’s not even 1 km within the city devoid of utilities – except the Old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR).” Subsequently, discussions were held with stakeholders like Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB), Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC), Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation (Tangedco) and Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) to seek approval for diversion of respective utilities. Then, the departments begin work of ordering the required cables with specifications for going ahead with the diversions, which takes another 3-6 months, depending upon the location. Officials stated that when the utilities were massive and plentiful, the foundations were changed along with large scale changes in arrangements. There were also instances where large utilities engaged with the foundation.
After utility diversions and design changes, contractors begin trenching works. “This begins before rig deployment, as it’s vital to study the route of each utility and where it ends,” added Siddique. Officials say that every 24 metres, a utility trench was dug up to trace the pipes. Additionally, with stakeholders’ recommendations, tracing and diversions happened for extended length. Incidentally, the mismatch of utilities was another challenging aspect that CMRL and other departments were currently faced with. “There have been instances of mismatch both in case of alignment of utilities and total count. In Arcot Road, especially, there have been cases of mismatch in utilities. This caused delay due to damages it caused to the pipes. Hence, we physically verify every pipeline, before beginning the work,” the director said.
So far, officials said that Arcot Road was one of the most challenging roads planned for a double decker line. And, due to space crunch and high number of utilities to trace and divert, the CMRL occupies 10-metre land in the stretch. Interestingly, officials said that after a large pipeline was identified in Arcot Road, designs at 80 places had to be altered by the CMRL. Similarly, in the case of Kaliamman Koil street, sewer lines were found in the middle of the street, forcing for realignment. “Multiple locations have been challenging. At Alandur, we’re having a high crossing above the existing lines. At Kattupakkam, we’ve planned an integrated flyover like in Vadapalani, which by far is the most challenging because of the large number of utilities,” explained Siddique.
LESSONS FROM PHASE 1
Unlike in earlier projects, the format for the current phase did not need to be rigid. “In phase 1, contractors were responsible for the whole project from designing to construction, including liabilities. But, in phase 2, the CMRL is responsible for designing, hence giving us the freedom to optimise stations and routes, including dropping a few stations from the original Detailed Project Report (DPR). This is clearly a better approach for Metro Rail construction,” he opined. For feasibility concerns, the CMRL has planned to drop 4 stations proposed at Meenakshi College, Doveton, Foreshore Estate and Thapalpetti from the phase 2 expansion. Further, a few underground stations have been made smaller, unlike the concourse in phase 1. To avoid road acquisition, some entrances of underground stations were constructed along the cantilever, thus reducing expenditure. For better traffic management, barricades were narrowed after shifting the cap (like at Iyyappanthangal). “In phase 1, roads were fully occupied till construction was over, but now we’ve substantially reduced it in phase 2, thus reducing traffic congestion. Also, 80% of construction work is being done at night,” the MD said.
Parking space near the stations have been given more importance. “If not for all stations, we’re ensuring additional parking space for every 2 metro stations, which we missed in phase 1,” he pointed out.
LESS TRAFFIC CHAOS
“With Metro Rail, we can expect at least 10% of vehicle reduction on roads. And to encourage public usage, many factors, including last mile connectivity, should be strengthened. Mobility also means encouraging the public to walk a few metres to board a bus or a train, which we’re still reluctant about,” said Prof L Elango, department of geology, Anna University. He pointed to the need to assess electriity consumption for operating the Metro. “While we’re reducing fuel consumption by trying to reduce traffic congestion, it’s vital to assess electricity consumption while operating the Metro,” he opined. While welcoming the additional mass transportation in the city, Sumana Narayanan, a senior researcher, Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group (CAG), who specialises on road safety and its sustainable use has urged the government to strengthen bus and local train service. “Buses are more flexible and affordable compared to Metro trains. If the government truly wants to make public transportation accessible and affordable for all, then it’s important to focus on buses and strengthen the existing transportation system, along with metro trains,” she averred. Sumana stated that it was important for the existing system to be made cleaner, safer, gender and disabled-friendly as the service was already affordable. She added, “Though economic boost is likely with the transit-oriented development, will factors like quality of life, breathable air and affordability be considered for assessing the index of development in future?”
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