What Kerala Should Demand in Rail Budget 2014-15

It is that joyous time of the year again! On the run-up to the railway budget, shopping lists are being prepared by all and sundry listing goodies they would like to be gifted not unlike a kid writing a letter to Santa. I though it would be a good idea to pitch in with a list of demands for the state of Kerala, the most neglected when it comes to railway development in the past decade. Maybe this will be a futile effort, but who knows, enganum Biriyani kittiyalo?

CLICK HERE For details of new trains announced in the latest Railway Budget 2014-15 presented by RM Sri DV Sadananda Gowda of the new BJP government on July 8 2014.

New Railway Zone!

Let it be called Peninsular Railway Zone (PRZ) or Western Coastal Railway Zone (WCoR), the Western Coast including Kerala MUST get its own zone! The state has constantly been turned into a joker by the Railways which deny its share of trains, coaches, funds, budget and what not. The only way any Railway development can take place in Kerala is with a dedicated zone for itself. And with respect to the revenue it generates, the state surely deserves it. All this and more reasons why Kerala should get its own zone can be read here.

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Railway Infrastructure

Route Track Line Doubling (TOP PRIORITY URGENT!)

Ernakulam – Kayankulam – The Ernakulam – Kayankulam section of the all-important railway line connecting Ernakulam and the northern parts of the state and country with with Trivandrum via Kottayam and Alappuzha run at 250% and 120% saturation respectively. The former one has 40 trains (excluding freights) passing on it every day, while the latter has 22. And 80% of these two lines are single track which causes speed restrictions and unending delays. The tamasha of doubling of these tracks has been going on for more than a decade now and after 11 years of work only 20 out of the 112 km of track via Kottayam and 18 of the 100 km via Alappuzha have been doubled! These two single lines act as the biggest bottlenecks for railways in Kerala and is always conveniently quoted as the reason for railway development not happening in the state. Money is never allocated for this project and whatever is allocated is always siphoned off for other projects. This project HAS to be completed on war footing!

Thiruvananthapuram – Nagercoil – This line runs through the heavily populated South Travancore region on which tens of thousands of people travel everyday. The NH47 is the only other option on this route and is always jammed. However, the railways have shelved the doubling of this line saying it is “financially unviable” (meaning not enough freights). However, passenger traffic on this line is quite high and it will make an excellent EMU Suburban corridor if the line were to be doubled. And it has to be.

Route Track Line Tripling (Shoranur – Mangalore)

The Shornur – Mangalore line is a major freight corridor thanks to the Mangalore port and the Konkan Railway, and congestion is frequent with freights jostling on the tracks with passenger services. The line should be tripled with a dedicated line laid for freights.

Route Track Line Quadrupling (Ernakulam – Shoranur)

The Ernakulam – Shornur line is the heart and soul of the state’s railway system. Almost 600 passenger services run on it every week in addition to numerous freights and many specials and it runs overburdened. Though it is double line electrified, speeds are pathetically low and congestion is ripe as it is a major commuter corridor as well with many EMU services. The line should be quadrupled if services on a whole have to be improved in any way.

Gauge Conversions from Meter Gauge to Broad Gauge

The Punalur – Tenkasi section of the Kollam – Tenkasi line and the Palakkad – Pollachi – Palani lines have been under “Gauge Conversion Process” from Meter Gauge to Broad Gauge for donkey years. These two lines, among the oldest in the country and serving as vital links between Kerala and Tamil Nadu have to be given more budget allocations and completed ASAP!

Rail Coach Factory (Kanjikode), Wagon Factory (Cherthala)

Both these projects were announced eons ago and still have not seen the light of the day. They have to be started as soon as possible with enough budget outlay, please?

My first panorama...

Coaching Terminals at Nemom and Kottayam

There is no space left at Trivandrum to park new trains, which is why no new trains are being run in Kerala. The announced coaching terminals at Trivandrum Nemom and Kottayam must be implemented as soon as possible so that new trains can be accommodated at Trivandrum and Kottayam can become a major passenger train terminal.

Electric Loco Shed (ELS) at Ernakulam

70% of lines in Kerala are electrified and electrification for the remaining is in progress. However, funnily there is no electric locomotive shed in Kerala which houses, services and runs electric locomotives. Locomotives have to come from Erode, Golden Rock or Royapuram shedst o cater to the needs of trains running in the state. This creates a operational nightmare for the railways and not to mention is grossly ineffective and in addition leads to overcrowding at Erode. A new Eletcric Loco Shed (ELS) has to be created at Ernakulam (ERS) which houses WAP4, WAP7, WAG7 and WAG9 locomotives. Without closing down the existing Diesel Loco shed of course.

Ernakulam/Kochi Area Railway Development

Ernakulam with two major and six minor railway stations is packed like a Mumbai Local with no much further scope for expansion. However, the Railways have all that is required to decongest the city with around 100 acres of lands where remains of the very first railway station in the city – the erstwhile Ernakulam Railway Terminus (ERG) lies abandoned overrun by jungle. This station can be rebuilt as an alternative to the Ernakulam Jn with long-distance train and passenger trains be made to terminate/originate here, the main stations left free for other traffic. The Cochin Harbor Terminus (CHTS) also can be reactivated with suburban trains be extended until there like it was done until some years ago. Stations like Kalamassery, Edappalli, Thrippunithura, Nettor, Kumbalam and Aroor need to be developed and a couple of new stations at Vaduthala/Pachalam and Atlantis can be considered for Suburban commuters.

Travancore Suburban Railway System

It is heartening to see that authorities are finally realizing that Kerala needs fast, reliable and frequent Suburban railway systems rather than long-distance expresses stopping at every other station. The Travancore Suburban Railway system can have EMU trains (Mumbai/Chennai/Kolkata type locals) running from Nagercoil and Thiruvananthapuram to Harippad and Chengannur at regular intervals catering to the huge traveling population who until now had to cram themselves into general compartments of express trains. These services can run at regular intervals, around one every 15 minutes during morning and evening rush hours and lesser during other times, maybe one every half an hour. These EMUs can also act as connections for long-distance trains whose un-necessary stoppages can thereby be eliminated. Alternate fast and slow local systems can also be introduced a-la Mumbai with the slow ones stopping at all stations and the fast ones only at important stations. Development of new stations near major cities should also be contemplated. These will do a lot more good than random passenger trains. The system should be extended to the Thrissur – Ernakulam corridor as well.

New (Already Announced) Railway Lines

We do not need more “new railway lines” to rest on paper. Those already announced should have their surveys completed and if found feasible, to be taken up for work immediately.

  • IMG_0650bSabari Railway Line (Angamali – Erumeli – Sabarimala)
  • Chengannur – Kottarakkara – Trivandrum
  • Erumeli – Pathanamthitta – Punalur – Trivandrum
  • Nilambur – Nanjangud
  • Thalasserry – Mysore
  • Ernakulam – Bodinaykkannur – Madurai
  • Edapalli – Guruvayur – Tanur

These lines were announced years back, and work only only one (Sabari) has even started, the remaining being stuck in “survey” stage. It is imperative that these lines be started work on as soon as possible, especially the highlighted ones.

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New Trains to be Demanded

New trains should be introduced only between Kerala and important metros, routes on which demand is heavy like to Bangalore, Mangalore, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Coimbatore/Salem and within Kerala. There is not much point in starting trains that run only once a week to some obscure town on the other end of the country. So here are those most needed trains.

Two Daily Trivandrum – Ernakulam Intercity Expresses

One via Kottayam and one via Alappuzha. There are simply not enough Intercity Expresses in Kerala to cater to the public within the state. These two can fill up the gaps providing Intercity express services during the day time and early morning and late evenings. These two trains can be run using only one single new rake by optimally utilizing the idle rake of the Vanchinad Express. For more details of operation and timetables, check here.

Mangalore Central – Ernakulam Daily Superfast Express

via Kozhikode – Shornur. As a late connectivity from both ends. Currently there are no trains from Mangalore to anywhere in Kerala after 1935 at all and no daily train from Ernakulam to Mangalore before 2335. This can start from Mangalore at 2030 arriving at Ernakulam at 0445. Vanchinad and Intercity can serve as connections. On the other side it can start from Ernakulam at 2130 arriving at Mangalore at 0545. Could later be extended to Kottayam.

Trivandrum Kochuveli – Pondicherry Daily Express

via Kottayam – Coimbatore – Salem – Villupuram. A long-demanded dedicated overnight train for primarily the students and other regular commuters between Kerala and Coimbatore, Erode, Salem, Villupuram and Pondicherry. This train is a necessity to relieve the Chennai/Bangalore trains of their loads of intermediate passengers (students) on the mainline. It will also serve as daily connectivity between Pondicherry and North-Central Tamil Nadu. Abstract timings: TVM – PDY: Dep KCVL at 1940, ERN: 0015, CBE: 0445, SA: 0820, PDY: 1330. PDY-TVM: Dep PDY:1630, SA: 2130, CBE: 0100, ERN: 0530, KCVL: 1020.

Ernakulam – Bangalore City Daily Superfast Express

via Palakkad – Salem – Bangarpet. Currently we have two rakes under two numbers running three services from Ernakulam and Bangalore on three days a week. Both these rakes are rake sharing circuses with other long-distance trains. Instead of this one single train should run between Bangalore City and Ernakulam Jn on all days of the week. The timings also should be tweaked so that it departs from either end at 2000 to arrive at the other end at 0730-0745. Could be extended to Kottayam and Mysore later after line doubling is completed. Absolutely necessary to somehow reduce traveling woes between Bangalore and Kerala!

Thiruvananthapuram – Bangalore City Daily Super Express

via Kottayam – Palakkad – Erode – Bangarpet. There is no route in South India where people experience such woes for traveling as between Bangalore and Kerala. All trains are perpetually waitlisted and take ages to cover the distance and run on odd days at odd timings from unreachable stations. The new fully reserved Limited Stop Super Express will run everyday from Trivandrum Central and Bangalore catering to South Kerala who curently get handed the rawest deal. Halts at BNC, KJM, ED (tech), Ernakulam Jn, Kottayam, Tiruvalla, Chengannur and Kollam only. Abstract Timings: TVC d: 1815, QLN: 1915, CNGR: 2040, KTYM: 2100, ERN: 2200, SBC a: 0730. SBC d: 1930, ERS: 0430, KTYM: 0545, CNGR: 0610, QLN: 0730, TVC a: 0830. Composition: 01 AC First, 04 AC 2 tier, 08 AC 3 tier, 9 Sleeper Class, 02 SLRs (24 coaches).

Ernakulam – Secunderabad Daily Superfast Express

via Palakkad – Katpadi – Tirupati – Kadapa – Gooty – Kurnool. There is only ONE train, the overcrowded and very slow Sabari Express connecting Kerala with the Andhra state capital! This train is absolutely necessary to correct this huge gap in connectivity and will run along a shorter and different route than the Sabari Express, thereby connecting parts of Telengana with Kerala as well.

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Coimbatore – Thiruvananthapuram Daily Jan Shatabdi Express

via Palakkad – Shoranur – Ernakulam Town – Kottayam – Kollam. As mentioned in a previous post, this need not be a wholly new train but can run combined with the 12081/82 Kannur – Trivandrum Jan Shatabdi Express between Trivandrum and Shoranur. For proposal, operational details and timetable, click here.

Trivandrum Kochuveli – Mumbai Dadar Central Daily Superfast Express

via Kottayam – Mangalore – Konkan – Panvel – Thane. There are only two dedicated daily trains from Mumbai to Kerala and both are excruciatingly slow and overbooked. The Jayanti Janata takes 45 hours on a South India trip and the Netravati Express though via Konkan still takes 30 hours from Trivandrum. A new Superfast with an early arrival/late departure from Mumbai and an aggressive schedule would fulfill the long-standing demand for another daily train on this super busy route. Abstract Schedule: KCVL – DR: Leaves KCVL: 0330, ERN: 0745, CLT: 1100, MAJN: 1500, MAO: 2105, PNVL: 0345, arrives DR at 0530. DR – KCVL: Leaves DR at 2200, PNVL: 2310, MAO: 0730, MAJN: 1220, CLT: 1600, ERN: 1945, arrives KCVL: 0000.

Thiruvananthapuram – Chennai Weekly Express

via Kottayam – Ernakulam Jn – Palakkad – Salem – Katpadi. This is currently running as a special utilizing the rakes of the discontinued Bangalore – Trivandrum weekly and should be regularized.

Trivandrum Kochuveli – Dibrugarh Weekly Express

via Kottayam – Palakkad – Chennai Central – Vishakhapatnam – Bhubaneshwar – Hijli – Adra – Durgapur – Malda Town – New Jalpaiguri – Goalpara – Guwahati – Dimapur – New Tinsukia. A train on this route regularly makes its appearance as a special train these days with an eye on all the migrant population in Kerala. It would be a good idea to regularize it, running on the route and timings of the Dibrugarh – Kanyakumari Vivek Express.

Kanyakumari – Hyderabad Kacheguda Bi-Weekly AC Express

via Nagercoil – Madurai – Namakkal – Salem – Katpadi – Pakala – Dharmavaram – Guntakal – Raichur – Gadwal – Jadcherla. Kanyakumari and Tirunelveli districts do not have a direct connectivity with Hyderabad and most parts of Andhra Pradesh. And Nagercoil does not have even one premium train to speak of. This train will solve both these shortcomings and will also provide another train between Trivandrum and Hyderabad and also the first express on the Guntakal – Raichur – Gadwal – Jadcherla route.

Ernakulam – Jaisalmer Weekly Superfast Express

via Mangalore – Konkan – Panvel – Vasai – Ahmedabad – Jodhpur. There are no trains from Kerala to this distant outpost in Rajasthan as of today. This train will also add another weekly connection to Ahmedabad and Jodhpur. In fact there are no direct trains from Jaisalmer to Mumbai or to any part of the country South of it.

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Extension of Service Routes of Existing Trains

12659/12660 Nagercoil – Shalimar Gurudev Express to Kanniyakumari.

12257/12258 Yeshwantpur – Kochuveli Garib Rath Express to Trivandrum Central.

22150/22151 Pune – Ernakulam Superfast Express to Trivandrum Central (via Kottayam)

12646/12647 New Delhi – Ernakulam Millenium Express to Trivandrum Central (via Alappuzha)

16527/16528 Yeshwantpur – Kannur Express should be made a 24 coach train with One AC 1st Class cum AC 2 tier coach, 01 AC 2 tier, 04 AC 3 tier, 12 Sleeper coaches, 04 General Unreserved and 02 SLRs.

Increase in Frequency of Service Days of Existing Trains

12257/12258 Yeshwantpur – Kochuveli Garib Rath from Triweekly to Daily Making this train a daily is of course a stretch because Garib Rath coaches are no longer being manufactured. However, if those concerned in the railway ministry are persuaded enough, they can be manufactured again. Until then, this train can immediately be made a quad-weekly by canceling the empty-running Yeshwantpur – Pondicherry Garib Rath on Fridays from Bangalore and Saturdays from Puducheri and using that rake to run the Yeshwantpur – Kochuveli Garib Rath instead. 12255/6 can be replaced by a 16 coacher regular express.

12081/12082 Kannur – Thiruvananthapuram Jan Shatabdi from 5 days a week to Daily: Why should this train run only 5 days a week? An Intercity express which does not run daily is of no use.

12432/12341 Hazarat Nizamuddin – Thiruvananthapuram – Rajdhani Express from Triweekly to Daily: There is no reason why this year-round Waitlisted and only Rajdhani serving the Konkan and Kerala should not run daily. Three days it could run via ALLP and four days via KTYM under two different numbers and different stops like the Bangalore Rajdhanis do.

11097/11098 Pune – Ernakulam Poorna Express from Weekly to Triweekly: This train started running in 1999 and 14 years later is still a weekly. It is heavily subscribed to and offers direct connectivity to places like Londa, Belgaum, Miraj, Satara and Sangli from Kerala, apart from Pune and Goa. It is also the only train offering direct connectivity within Karnataka between Mangalore and the rest of the Karavalli coast with Belgaum. It is absolutely imperative that the frequency of this train be increased.

16323/16324 Thiruvananthapuram – Kolkata Shalimar Express from Biweekly to Daily: Despite communism, fish and lakhs and lakhs of migrant workers in Kerala from the North East, West Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, Kerala does not have a daily direct connectivity with Kolkata! This Deepawali season SR, SER and ER ran a number of special trains between these destination, which is reason enough for frequency of this train be increased and if possible extended to Howrah. Also, the following services have to be increased in frequency forming another daily train to Kolkata and to Guwahati three days a week. These trains can use the same time slot on the routes they share.

12515/12516 Thiruvananthapuram – Guwahati Expresses from Biweekly to Triweekly

22581/22582 Mangalore – Kolkata Santragachi Vivek Express from Weekly to Biweekly

12659/12660 Nagercoil – Kolkata Shalimar Gurudev Express from Weekly to Biweekly

What We Need is a Vision, not Populism

Kerala actually needs only one thing from the Railways, which is solid rail infrastructure on the ground and a comprehensive and integrated urban transportation plan and not random trains running up and down the state. To start with, the Mangalore – Shornur Triple line, Shornur – Ernakulam quadruple line, Ernakulam – Trivandrum – Nagercoil double line, all fully electrified. This should lead to what is really required, Fast and frequent connectivity throughout the state and overnight Intercity connections to major metros. Instead the state gets lot of useless empty promises and projects which never materialize. And it does not need more slow, dragging weekly ultra long-distance trains to some obscure town at the other end of the country.

Will someone do the needful, please?

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