Let us make it quite clear at the outset – we are delighted that the city has a metro rail service in operation, albeit a mere fraction of what ought to have been running by now. Those who use the facility profess to be quite happy with it – it saves time, the stations are clean and Chennai Metro Rail Limited has also organised some kind of last-mile connectivity by pressing into service local auto rickshaws and taxicabs. But what is of worry, apart from the high fares, is the shoddy workmanship of the stations and the numerous technical glitches that the actual operation itself suffers from. True, the latter can be teething troubles but not the former. There is really no excuse for poor quality construction.

A correspondent who specialises in civil projects has actually taken the pains to go around the stations and photographically document some of what has gone wrong. These range from major to minor lapses. Among the former you would include unfinished concrete cladding, thereby exposing the mild-steel handrails. Also in this category would be water logging due to improper finishing of the surfaces of the stations. The ceilings are already disfigured even though the monsoon has not arrived. Exposed metal bars that form the actual skeleton of the station structures pose a bigger threat in the long term – these can corrode thereby weakening the buildings themselves. Of more immediate concern are the falling roof tiles and cracking window glasses, both of which have become routine occurrences. These have injured a few commuters as well. No less an authority than IIT Madras has been moved to comment that all of these are indications of poor workmanship. CMRL responded with patchwork – removing fifty tiles that were identified as likely to fall and covered all the exposed spaces with cement and paint. The idea of replacing with new tiles was given up. If that be the case, why was tiling done in the first place at added expense? There are several minor issues as well – improperly finished junctions boxes and switches, crooked signboards and gaping holes in station display panels. Not many are likely to notice these, but those who do are left unimpressed.

There have been operations glitches as well. The signalling systems failed three days running in one week of October, resulting in trains being delayed. Irate commuters had no choice but to take to bus transport, thereby negating the very purpose of the metro. The level of air-conditioning has also come in for complaint. The stations are invariably hot, leaving commuters enervated. As for the staff, who have to spend the whole day underground, their plight can only be imagined. CMRL has responded to this complaint by stating that the air-conditioning system is only partially operational. Many of its units are turned off to save power as the commuter traffic still remains low. The question then arises that if this be the quality of cooling with low patronage, how will it be when the metro runs to full capacity?

A second reason for the warmth in the stations once again points to shoddy design – the hot air in the tunnels apparently seeps through gaps in the station doors thereby heating up the public areas. In a hot city like Chennai, surely this ought to have been thought through even at the design stage? It is too late now to do anything about it.

CMRL has to seriously do some rethinking and set right lapses at least in the forthcoming stations. We really do not need yet another poorly designed public facility. After all, we already have the airport as a showcase for that.