With a change in Government, as is to be expected in Tamil Nadu, there is a complete volte-face on several projects. Chief among these is the decision to revive the idea of a monorail system for Chennai, as opposed to the Metro rail underground network on which work in now underway. A saving grace is that the Metro is not entirely scrapped and an assurance has been given that Phase I of the project will be completed in its entirety. Now the focus shifts to what the monorail will entail. All schemes promise a multi-modal transport solution for the city but much will depend on how this translates into reality.

The idea of a monorail for the city is not new. It was proposed in 2006 and was then touted as the ideal solution for a congested city like ours. The trains being elevated, need less space on the ground for their supporting structures. The tracks can be easily structured to suit the narrow and curving contours of our roads. The construction is less complicated thereby ensuring a shorter gestation time and less disruption of traffic on the ground while work is in progress. This also means expanding the network to the suburbs will be simpler. Heritage buildings in the vicinity are unlikely to be impacted. The previous government however preferred the underground solution probably on the same considerations that the present dispensation is favouring an aerial solution.

Those in favour of the Metro argue that the monorail can be used at best in short stretches and that an underground system can carry a far greater number of passengers over longer distances. There is also the concern that the economic viability of the Metro was calculated on the presumption that at the end of a three-phased programme it would run right across the city in two corridors. Now with just one phase planned, it unlikely that the Metro will ever become financially viable. That does not appear to worry those propounding the idea of a monorail and a 300 km stretch covering 18 corridors in the city is now planned.

Whether it is a mono or a Metro rail network or both, what is important is that the city gets an integrated transport system where all modes of transport merge seamlessly into each other. Presently that is not the case with the MRTS, the suburban rail network and the bus transport services completely disconnected from each other. This has ensured that those who would prefer to commute using public transport are still forced to use private vehicles. Which in effect has brought all these schemes to nought. Of course, on paper every scheme has its proffered aim to provide a multi-modal system but in reality none has managed to achieve this.

The number of private vehicles in the city was 16 lakhs in 2005 and it has doubled in six years. With that kind of growth it is imperative that an integrated transport service is designed and implemented at the earliest failing which we may be hurtling towards a permanent gridlock.