The decks are cleared for Chennai’s long-awaited Metro Rail system to roll out. Those in the know agree that these have been cleared for quite some time now, but who are we to cavil at the delay? Though a section of the media has gone to town over the inauguration and has written of it as the beginning of the end of all traffic woes in the city, we would advise a more cautious approach. For there is much that still needs to be completed if the service is to prove effective.

Firstly, this is only a part of the service – the line being used only connects Koyambedu to Alandur. The rest of the route which, when fully executed, will connect Central Station to St Thomas Mount, will take quite a while before it is completed. The second line, from Wimco Nagar to the Airport, also has to be completed. It is only when this is done will the full benefits of the metro service be enjoyed by the commuting public.

The delay in the execution of the project owing to various factors has caused an escalation of costs as well. Much will depend on the continuous funding of the project by the State and Central funding agencies for speedy completion.

Secondly, the completed section has quite a few issues that need immediate attention if the service is to see good patronage. The major problem is of last mile connectivity. As is well known, one of the chief causes for the failure of the Mass Rapid Transport System (MRTS) was its complete isolation from all other modes of transport. If this is to be repeated by the Metro, it would indeed be a futile exercise. At the initiation of the Metro project, last mile connectivity was one of the major promises made. Now it is not so clear. Certainly, there are no bus bays anywhere in the vicinity of the completed stretch that awaits inauguration.

What of parking facilities? If the Metro hopes to get car users to switch to public transport, it will have to provide parking bays, or at least make arrangements in the near vicinity for this. At present, no plans appear to be afoot to achieve this and those who live in the vicinity of the Metro stations fear that their streets will soon become unauthorised parking lots for the cars that await passengers using the Metro service.

By far the biggest issue appears to be the lack of pedestrian access. The Metro had committed to building footpaths extending to around 500 metres in the vicinity of each station. This appears to have been handed over to the Corporation of Chennai and there are no clear-cut target dates by when this will be completed. If passengers are unable to walk to the Metro Rail stations, the service is likely to remain underused.

While these are all issues pertaining to the first phase of the service, the Parrys-Saidapet line has run into problems of a different kind. The Russian contractor who was responsible for the tunnelling along this line has vanished, leaving behind equipment and a host of unpaid vendors. The latter have since been petitioning Chennai Metro Rail to make their payments. The vendors have also been staging protests outside the CMRL office. Metro Rail will now have to identify a new contractor to complete the work, a task that is not easy given the procedures involved.

Taken overall, Metro Rail has a long way to go before it becomes the kind of service it has been touted as. Much will depend on speedy execution, the addressing of concerns of all stakeholders and, above all, efficient operation. Time alone will tell if it is up to all this.

This article appeared in Madras Musings dated 1st June, 2015