Calcutta had set out the path for the rest of India to follow in just
about every aspect of life. Over the past few decades the lead has
been worn thin. But there are a few exceptions that remain without
equal. Ability to come up with Nobel Laureates at regular intervals,
for instance. Or its Metro Railway, voted by the Independent as
cleaner and better running than tubes in London or Paris.
11 million people today live within the confines of the Calcutta
Metropolitan District. Its important as the gateway to the eastern
and north-eastern parts of the country has resulted in inevitable
increase in population. It accelerated after WW II, suffered a major
influx during partition in 1947 and made a quantum jump in the 60s
to reach 7 million by 1971.
urban growth as unplanned as it has been, the merger network of roads
during the entire stretch of the first three five year plans had less
than 8 km added arterially to it. While in modern cities road surface
relative to total area is around 30%, for the city it is barely 4.2%
way below even the national average. Also the upkeep of these roads
ahs been very poor. Combined with an uncontrolled mix of incompatible
forms of traffic and the menace of hawkers who continue to occupy the
pavements and even parts of road, transport remains slow, crowded and
early as 1949, Dr. B.C.Roy, then Chief Minister of West Bengal, had,
with foresight, requested a French team to consider the feasibility
of an underground Rapid Transit System. Two lines, east-west and
north-South, were recommended despite expected problems to be faced
in working through prevalent soil structure. Between Ginwala
Committee of 1947 and the Garbutt Report in 1966, various other
studies recommended a Circular Railway, often with elevated tracks
for lower expenses and easier construction for a north-south
comprehensive study of the citys transportation needs made by
the Calcutta Metropolitan Planning Organization in 1967 suggested 2
high capacity, grade separated corridors. Based on this, a special
metropolitan transport team of planning Commission recommended in
1969 a techno-economic study for system selection. Ministry of
Railways, entrusted with this task, set up the MTP®. Under
agreements between the governments of India and USSR, it received
expert consultation from M/s. Technoexport of Moscow in end 70.
Central Government accepted their advice of high priority to the
16.45 km Dum Dum-Tollygunge line and sanctioned the project in June
1972 at an estimated cost of Rs.1,400 million. There wee to be 17
stations-15 underground and one each at surface and elevated levels.
There was an overall strategy to have five lanes aggregating 97.5 km
by year 2000. Exactly the way tubes in London or New York have
gradually grown into huge networks.
construction began in 1973-74. But progress was poor initially. The
1974-75 oil crisis meant near doubling of project cost and consequent
rethinking by the government temporarily put all work on hold. Even
until 1977-78 funding remained paltry. When adequate finances finally
became available, major hurdles were still faced in procurement of
steel, cement and railway rakes. And also in innumerable court cases
related mostly to acquisition of 178 acres from private parties, in
indecision regarding prioritization of constructional phases, in
improper drainage and in lack of necessary experience of contractors.
All this lead to time and cost overruns.
had to wait two troublesome decades and the exchequer had to spend a
whopping Rs.17,060 million on the projects.
spite of all the odds, Indias first Asias fifth and the
worlds 85th underground railway began commercial
operations on 24th October, 1984. there was partial
service between Esplanade and Bhowanipur, 3.4 km and five stations
distant. The entire Esplanade-distant. The entire Esplanade
Tollygunge (9.97 km) south section started operations from April
1986. Part operations in the Dum dum Shayambazar stretch began only
in August 1994. through services of end to end travel in only 33
minutes became a reality on 27th September, 1995.
new technologies were adopted for the first time in this effort. The
predominantly used cut & cover method of tunnel construction
using diaphragm walls and sheet piles had to be modified in areas
where diversions were not possible. Extensive decking allowing
traffic to flow over cuts while work progressed below; shield
tunneling using airlocks, ballastless tracks; third rail traction,
continuous automatic train control; underground air-conditioning and
ventilation systems and automatic ticket vending and checking
systems, all made a first entry.
present 142 trains consisting of 8 coaches with gross capacity of
around 2,500 persons each, run from 0700 to 2200 hours every weekday
at intervals of 10 minutes at peak times. In 1998-99 there was a
total of 58 million passengers as compared to the 1.47 million in
1984-85 or 69.14 million in 1997-98. The distinctly noticeable fall
in usage last year attributable in parts to the citys central
business district getting widely dispersed, the industrial/economic
scenario being on a steady downswing and increase in ticket prices.
and safety have always been important to the Metro authorities
beautifully relayed roads and done up gardens, designer interiors for
each station, mobile art galleries within coaches have all given it a
warm and wonderful touch.
late, however, there have been problems related to obsolescence and
maintenance, specially of rolling stock. Given that the Metro is and
will have to remain a highly subsidized effort, allocation from the
railway budget over the past years have barely been enough to balance
the present railway minister has a fair idea of the problems and has
promised her full support in the days ahead, bodes well for the
Metro. Specially with respect to the planned extension further south
from Tollygunge to Garia. This part is expected to reach completion
by year 2004.
northerly extension of the Metro from Dum Dum to Barrackpore, also on
elevated tracks, is being considered and RITES has been awarded the
feasibility study at a cost of Rs.24.7 lacs. Proposal for a link to
the airport (aerial distance 5.7 km) has been sent to the Board with
request for the Rs.13.5 lacs needed for a feasibility study.
although in 1984 the need for circular railway, with elevated
alignment between Majerhat and Princep Ghat, was also accepted,
nothing has happened on it yet due to necessary land not being made
available. If this comes through within the next few years as
promised, pressure on the North Suburban section of Sealdah will
stand greatly reduced with trains encircling the entire business
district before going back via the direct Park Circus Ultadanga link.
Working in tandem, it will reduce the ever growing pressure on the
word on Calcuttas Metro can be complete without mention of
contribution of its people who suffered silently when it was being
made and manage to keep it very clean, systematic and comfortable.
But most of all they take great pride in it as their own. As
passengers and as employees.