The decision of the State Government to work on a monorail system for the city, in parallel to the in progress metro-rail has been questioned. Doubts have been raised as to whether the implementation of the monorail would affect the financial viability of the metro-rail especially with the persistent rumour that the latter will not be allowed to expand to its fullest possible extent as planned earlier. It is also being said that the metro-rail is receiving step-motherly treatment because it was a pet project of the previous regime. The question is, should such considerations affect what is ultimately going to be a life-saving transport system for the city, which is already choked with vehicular traffic?

The latest salvo against the monorail has come from E Sreedharan, the man who is credited with making the Delhi metro-rail network a reality. The 190 km long Delhi Metro is the fastest expanding network in its genre outside of China and caters to 16lakh passengers in a day. It has completely revolutionised the traffic system in that city, thanks to its integration with other transport systems at various strategic points. And when the person behind this questions what is happening in Chennai, it makes you think.

One of the fundamental premises for the success of a monorail system, Sreedharan has argued, is the availability of large tracts of land for commercial exploitation in tandem with the rail network. This he says is absolutely necessary for financial viability as a monorail network is at least 30% more expensive in implementation. And such land is not available at any cost in Chennai, except perhaps by acquisition at from private parties. This will once again push up the cost of the project.

There is also concern about the viability of the present metro system, given that the Government is reportedly mulling over dropping one of the two corridors along which it was initially planned to operate. The Metro ‘s economics was calculated on the presumption that at the end of a three-phased programme it would run right across the city in two corridors – Chennai Airport to Washermanpet and Chennai Central to St Thomas Mount. The former was also to be extended up to Wimco Nagar, which plan also it is understood, is to be axed. Sreedharan has strongly urged the Government to reconsider, stating that unless a metro has the capacity to cater to around 90,000 passengers an hour, it will never be self-sustaining. Such capacities he says can be achieved only if the two corridors and the extension are taken up. In addition, there must be a commitment to the metro as the solution for Chennai with successive governments continuing to invest in it.

While Madras Musings is no expert on the subject, it would strongly the urge the State Government to heed the voice of an acknowledged authority. The idea of a monorail was that of the present regime when it was last in office. The previous regime was all for the metro. Such political stances cannot be the consideration for the implementation of a transport solution. These are long-term public amenities and a decision, one way or another, will have a telling impact, either positive or negative, on the quality of life in the city. We are already facing the problems caused by the ineffective way in which the MRTS was integrated with other transport systems and also constructed along a water body. We cannot wish away those errors in hurry. Can we therefore avoid any repetition? Can a debate be called among experts, can the findings be publicised and then a decision taken?