Tuesday, June 25, 2024
India News

Airport rail, a faster, roomier alternative to metro

Everyone talks about the Airport Metro, but one look at the pillars and completion seems nowhere in sight. Meanwhile, a faster, cheaper, roomier alternative called the Suburban Rail Airport Corridor is finally getting off the drawing board. This dedicated corridor with its specialised coaches will link the airport to vast stretches of Bengaluru, where the metro connection is still years away.

Despite its clear advantages over the Metro, the airport stretch of the four-corridor Bengaluru Suburban Rail Project (BSRP) was not prioritised over the other lines. The implementing agency, the Rail Infrastructure Development Company (Karnataka) Limited (K-Ride), has now shifted gears, proposing a route to the Kempegowda International Airport (KIA) from the Doddajala side.

Once approved, the airport corridor will drop the earlier alignment designed to enter KIA at the Trumpet Interchange on Ballari Road. Instead, the tracks will be laid through the Begur Road entry before terminating at the multi-modal mobility hub coming up between the two airport terminals.

The new 8km link, branching off the Majestic-Devanahalli corridor at Doddajala, will be longer than the 5.6km connection planned earlier. However, K-Ride reckons that the new route will also benefit employees of the Aerospace Park just outside the airport and residents. Two additional stations are proposed before the track enters the airport premises.

Completely different alignments

So, why should an airport passenger hop onto the BSRP train instead of the flashy Metro? “The Metro and BSRP have completely different alignments. The only common factor is upto Yelahanka, beyond which the Metro turns towards K.R. Puram at Hebbal and goes to Silk Board taking the Outer Ring Road route. The BSRP train moves to Yeswanthpur, Malleswaram and Majestic, the heart of the city,” explains Rajkumar Dugar, a mobility analyst tracking the suburban rail project for years.

The big problem with the Airport Metro is this: It is unlikely to be a dedicated airport line such as the Delhi Airport Express, implying multiple interchange transfers with luggage. “On the other hand, the BSRP train will have excellent integration with the Metro both at Yeshwantpur and Bengaluru City railway stations,” he points out.

Seamless intermodal transfers

To make commuters’ intermodal transfers seamless, the BSRP stations are being positioned closer to the Metro stations at both Yeshwantpur and Majestic. The BSRP line will also be closer to the Subhashnagar BMTC bus terminal in Majestic. An earlier location was within the City Railway Station, close to the platforms but uncomfortably distant from the Metro and BMTC hubs.

Airport Metro commuters do have the option to switch over to the Gottigere-Nagawara line at an interchange along the ORR. But, as seasoned commuter rail campaigner Sanjeev Dyamannavar notes, this will be a Herculean task. “The Metro line from Gottigere, Bannerghatta Road will be underground at this point. There will be a five-level difference with the elevated Airport Metro line. There is also a flyover at Nagawara to deal with. Integration will be in a very bad shape,” he says.

Unlike the metro, the interchanges of the four BSRP corridors are mostly at grade, so also the integration with the existing railway stations. This would mean airport commuters could seamlessly alight the train at Yelahanka to catch a connecting BSRP train on the Corridor-4, when it gets operationalised between Heelalige near Electronic City and Rajanakunte.

At Yeshwanthpur, they could also switch from the Airport BSRP train and hop onto Corridor-2, which runs between Baiyappanahalli and Chikkabanavara, passing through Hebbal, Nagavara, Banaswadi and Kasturinagar.

However, from a commuter’s perspective, even switching corridors on the BSRP will not be without hassles. As a Whitefield resident, Pravir says, “A direct BMTC Volvo bus would be preferable to go to the airport, taking the Budigere Cross route. Once fully operationalised, the BSRP route would mean first boarding the train at Whitefield, switching to Corridor-3 at Baiyappanahalli, and again shifting to the Airport Corridor at Yelahanka.”

A comparison of the routes designed for the Airport Metro and the BSRP Suburban Rail Airport Corridor.

A comparison of the routes designed for the Airport Metro and the BSRP Suburban Rail Airport Corridor.
| Photo Credit:

Metro’s capacity constraint

Beyond routes, the Metro has a capacity constraint. As Sanjeev notes, the sitting space in BSRP trains would be far higher than that in Metro coaches, where standing passengers far outnumber those lucky enough to find a seat. Every suburban train compartment is expected to have a separate luggage section, with a check-in facility for airport passengers on the Delhi Airport Express lines.

Here’s a hypothetical scenario once both the Airport Metro and the BSRP trains are operational. An airport passenger takes the Metro to Jayanagar. Reaching Silk Board after passing through several stations along the Outer Ring Road, he will have to switch to a different line.

In the words of Rajkumar, “This will take over two hours, since the Metro will take 90-100 minutes to reach Silk Board from the Airport terminal. By the BSRP train, the Airport to Majestic commute will take not more than 65-70 minutes. The average speed of BSRP is slightly higher because the average inter-station gap is more, at 2.5-3km compared to Metro’s 1.5-2km.”

BSRP extensions to towns

If BSRP is seen as a viable airport connectivity option, why not extend it to outlying satellite towns? Why not let airport-bound commuters in Bidadi, Ramanagaram, Tumakuru or Hosur take this faster option to KIA? It is learnt that K-Ride had repeatedly made this offer to the South Western Railways (SWR). But a green signal for even a pre-feasibility study has not come through.

In July 2023, the K-Ride Board had given an in-principle go-ahead for the study. It was proposed that under a second phase, BSRP could be extended to satellite towns such as Gauribidanur, Chikkaballapura, Bangarpet, Magadi, Kolar, Hosur, Mysuru and Tumakuru, catering to rising public demand. The objective was made clear: To ease the congestion in Bengaluru City and aid major developments already underway in the satellite towns and future growth. An airport link could have been easily integrated into this larger network.

Whatever the fate of this proposed extension, all eyes are now on the early completion of the BSRP phase 1. Prioritising the airport corridor could be a game-changer. However, the progress of the entire project has been slow. In June 2022, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had set a 40-month deadline for the ₹15,767-crore project. Barring a few stretches, civil works have not moved.

Nobody talks about the 40-month deadline anymore, says Rajkumar. Parliamentarians from Bengaluru had rarely taken a review of the project to facilitate solutions to problems faced by K-Ride, he points out.