Wednesday, March 28, 2012

once again to endure a callous resurvey?

‘Kollengode – Thrissur railway line’ – an unresolved chronicle on shelved projects, once again to endure a callous resurvey only to get locked up into cold storage?
(Madan Menon Thottasseri )

As in previous years, Railway Budget 2012-13 presented by the Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi had not deviated from the precedent of neglecting the state of Kerala. Evidently the investment in railway infrastructure in the state is meager despite being in the forefront for patronizing railways. In fact there is blooming prospects for construction of many new railway lines in Kerala connecting to towns in neighboring Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and within the state linking existing towns even where there are rail heads through alternative routes, pilgrim centers and tourist locations. Unfortunately even after incorporation of certain projects in the Railway Budget, for one reason or other the people have to struggle for the allocation of sufficient funds for completion of the same.
The Kollengode – Thrissur railway has become an unresolved chronicle among the shelved railway proposals despite having all potential and viability as a green-corridor enabling a chord link between Pollachi and Thrissur. It was unfortunate that the said project never enjoyed much popular demand in Kerala and had been ignored by political bastions of all fronts.
I have been advocating for the Kollengode – Thrissur line during the past three decades and expected the Kerala government to include it in the ‘wish list’ this time too for getting it incorporated into the Railway Budget/2012-13 as the shelved project has the potential to get refurbished. The said project which was resurveyed just four years’ back is once again selected for a survey under the Railway Budget 2012- 13. While the project had been getting postponed in disguise, the announcement of a fresh survey for the rail link could prove that the proposal had not gone astray forever!
There is a long imminent proposal for a new line between Kollengode, a town lying in the Pollachi- Palakkad M.G section, an erstwhile tiny realm under the British Malabar (presently in Palakkad district) and Thrissur, the city of ‘Pooram’ festivals, which is actually very much significant for the B.G conversion project in the Palakkad- Pollachi- Dindigul route aimed to facilitate shortest route to temple towns of south Tamil Nadu from Malabar and Cochin regions of Kerala. A traffic survey for connecting Kollengode and Thrissur (B.G) was done during 1964-65 by the distinguished authority on Railways Padmashree P.N.Baskaran Nair (late) who simultaneously surveyed the Salem- Bangalore and Hassan – Mangalore lines. In fact this was the second survey, as the initial survey conducted during the pre-independence period in mid forties already went un-noticed. The line was resurveyed in the year 2007 when Ram Vilas Paswan was the Railway Minister.
Based on the survey in 1964-65, the railway ministry during the tenure of S.K. Patel was not against a M.G line. It was justified in advising for a M.G line at a time when both M.G and B.G lines were existed in Southern railway and only M.G lines were recommended for branch lines (especially the one originating/terminating to/fro M.G sections) wherein the frequency of traffic was comparatively lower than trunk routes. The Ministry’s reluctance to sanction a B.G. line must have been due to paucity of funds also. Above all, at that time a M.G. line would be ideal when Kollengode becomes a Railway Junction with an entry-point directly from Thrissur to Pollachi (by-passing Palakkad) for annexing with the big M.G. net-work through Dindigul Junction lying between Tiruchcchi and Madurai in the Chennai Egmore – Madurai –Rameswaram/Tuticorin/ Tirunelveli/ Quilon/Trivandrum trunk routes prevailing then.
The proposal to link Kollengode lying in the Pollachi- Palakkad M.G section under B.G conversion , with Thrissur, the city of pooram festivals via. Nenmmara, Ayalur Road, Chittillamcherry, Mudappallur( For Mangalam Dam), Vadakkumcherry , Kuthiran, Pattikkad ( for Peechi Reservoir) and Mannuthy was neglected and kept in the cold storage for the past four and half decades. Together with Nenmmara and Vallengy, many villages like Ayalur (Ayiloor), Chittillamcherry, Cheramangalam, Mudapallur, Vadakkumcherry, Pallavoor constitute an enclave of Vela- Kanyarkali festivals in the months of April-May every year. These festivals are performed in various temple premises from desk to dawn and it provides all ingredients of folk-dance-dramas that can attract intellectuals to laymen amongst tourists.
Actually a M.G link from Thrissur to Kollengode had a lot of potential to operate direct trains to many temple towns of Tamil Nadu from Thrissur. Unfortunately, the then Kerala Government and Southern Railway were in no mood to compromise with an M.G. line, despite knowing the fact that the from Thrissur can be easily extended to the nearby temple town Guruvayur! The Project was finally shelved and was forgotten by the authorities. We have to know that It took three more decades to get the Thrissur-Guruvayur B.G rail link when the 23 k.m was established and opened for traffic only by 1995! Had the M.G. rail link between Kollengode and Thrissur been established then, say in late Sixties, the just 23 k.m. long Trichur- Guruvayur rail link would have become an immediate reality, even as a mixed-gauge line. At this time there is a popular demand for direct trains between Guruvayur and cities/ Temple towns of Tamil Nadu, unknowing the fact that people had actually lost the facility of direct travel (by M.G.trains) between the Pooram City and temple towns in the neighboring Tamilnadu viz. Palani, Madurai,Rameswaram etc. through Kollengode, forty five years’ back!.
It is conspicuous from this that the Kollengode- Thrissur rail-link was not implemented mainly due to the lack of prudence of the then Kerala Government and Southern Railway. If Kerala had put forth a compromise as in the case of the Salem – Bangalore line and agreed for a M.G line at least in mid seventies or eighties (much prior to the declaration of the ‘uni-gauge’ policy/1992), probably a M.G rail connectivity between Kollengode and Thrissur would have become a reality and the same would have been converted into B.G by this time.
We should know that the Salem – Bangalore line (215 k.m) via Dharmapuri and Hosur, was also originally sanctioned as an M.G. rail link. When the Ministry didn’t heed to the request of political lobbies for the getting it as a B.G. line, the Southern Railway prudently prevailed on it with the support of the Tamil Nadu government and compromised for an M.G. Line in the year 1985, with the condition that B.G. standards have to be maintained while laying M.G tracks by providing adequate space provisions for construction of culverts, bridges and level crossings, so as to facilitate easy conversion into B.G in the future. This compromising formula had positively worked out as the said M.G line got the first place in the B.G. Conversion List of Southern Railway upon the declaration of “Project Uni-Gauge” in the year1992. The converted Salem – Bangalore B.G. line was in fact opened for traffic in the year 1996.
The survey of Hassan – Mangalore M.G line that was surveyed by the same expert together with that Kollengode –Thrissur and Salem – Banalore lines, was completed only in mid seventies, but it was immediately sanctioned as a M.G line which was considered safe and suitable for the mountainous terrain. Still this line got enlisted as a mega project of national importance into the B.G. conversions programmed for the 9th Five-Year Plan (1997-2002). Providing the between Hassan and Mangalore involved high-tech construction of a new line atop the elevated giant concrete structures installed between the slopes of rocky mountains at both sides in the Sakleshpur- Subramanya Road- Kabakaputtur stretch and not just the usual conversion of an M.G.line on the plains. The project which had over-run the cost and time was completed only in 2009-10!
The plight of the Kollengode – Thrissur line was widely divergent. Successive State Governments in Kerala never studied the potential of this proposed line and no Minister or leader from this region could take forward the issue as one of the priority projects in the ‘wish-list’ of the state government intimated to the Railway Ministry all these years. It will not be an overstatement if I say that at no time Kerala State governments were aware of the importance of this proposed Railway Line.
There were pressure lobbying by private bus operators, who are against the rail-link connecting Pollachi to Thrissur via Kollengode plying hundreds of buses in the busy Pollachi - Govindapuram–Kollengode – Nenmara – Vadakkumchery – Mannuthy -Thrissur (Inter -State Road joining with N.H.47 at Vadakkumchery) route in mid sixties and seventies when there was intense demand for the railway line. There were many anecdotes of affluent Bus Operators based at Pollachi and Thrissur involved in influencing some of the dominant political leaders of Kerala and Tamil Nadu who could dissuade the Railway Ministry from endorsing the proposal.
The proposed Kollengode – Thrissur line will run mainly through the plain countryside and only a short distance of less than 20 k.m will be in the mountainous terrain and gradient zone in the Vadakkumcherry – Kuthiran - Pattikkad {for Peechi Reservoir and Plantation Research Institute} towards Thrissur via. Mannuthy { for Agricultural University and Veterinary College}. It is very noteworthy that the proposed line passes through Nenmara, the gate-way of Nelliyampathy Hill- Station. Nelliyampathy is an upcoming tourist destination and also an ideal out-door shooting location for movie makers in Southern India. The present Nenmara town is better known for spectacular show of elephants’ parade and fireworks displayed at the Nenmara- Vallenghy Vela Festival, held in the first week of April every year which is rated at par with the Thrissur Pooram festival. Pothundy Dam, just 6 k.m away from Nenmmara, constructed at the start off ‘Ayalur( Ayiloor) River’, a sub-tributary of Bharathapuzha is an ideal recreation location with gardens. This dam is having a unique status as ‘second largest in Asia without using cement-mixture’.
The said rail link between Kollengode and Thrissur will give a face-lift to the paddy-cultivation and trading centers covered under Chulliyar, Pothundy, Mangalam and Peechi irrigation projects. Boat rides in Peechi, close to Thrissur and Pothundy reservoirs are popular. It will be an enchanting journey by a train that chugs through the beautiful countryside surrounded by thick lush of paddy fields, Coconut – areca nut farms, rubber plantations and picturesque hills!
People of the Thrissur- Nenmara- Kollengode in Kerala and Pollachi- Udumalaipet- Palani in Tamil Nadu regions have lot of expectations on the B.G connectivity between Palakkad and Dindigul ( 180 k.m) via. Kollengode, Pollachi and Palani as well as between Podanur to Pollachi (40 k.m). Further if the new line between Kollengode and Thrissur is made possible, it will establish the shortest route from Central Tamil Nadu to Cochin and Malabar regions. Trains between the Madurai/Tiruchchi regions in Tamil Nadu and Thrissur, Guruvayur, Ernakulam, Aleppy etc. can be operated through Dindigul – Pollachi – Kollengode – Thrissur route, by-passing the traffic saturated Palakkad – Ottappalam – Shoranur/ Thrissur sections.
Being a short distance of approx. 54 k.m, the Ministry of Railways could have incorporated the proposed Kollengode -Thrissur B.G line in the current Railway Budget and simultaneously released adequate funds for the early implementation of the new line as well as for augmenting the completion of the gauge conversion projects in Dindigul – Udumalaipet – Palani - Pollachi - Kollengode- Palakkad /Pollachi-Podanur sections. It is ironical that the current Railway Budget 2012- 13 had selected the same proposal for a fresh survey.
The significance of this line is enhanced as it can provide a shorter route and easy accessibility from the industrial towns in South and Central Tamil Nadu as well as Tuticorin Port to Kochi port and Vallarpadom Container terminal in Kerala. A shortest rail corridor from Central and Coastal Tamil Nadu to Thrissur will be much useful for the faster movement of Containers between Tuticorin and Cochin Ports.
Kollengode – Thrissur railway line will never be listed as an unfeasible project taking into account the facilitation of direct link between Pollachi and Thrissur offering very good potential for maximum of Passenger and goods traffic. People of both Kerala and Tamil Nadu have a record of high patronage to the mode of transport under the railway network. If the Railway Ministry concludes that the Kollengode- Thrissur Rail link is found financially unviable and cannot bring adequate traffic earnings, probably majority of branch lines appearing in the list of new lines in West Bengal, Maharashtra, M.P, U.P will never be entitled for approval. It is an undeniable truth that right from the declaration of Uni-Gauge policy in 1992, 80 percent of the gauge conversion and proposal for new lines were carried out based on the strength of political lobbies and not on the potentials of traffic viability and projected enhanced earnings!
Can Railway Ministry declare earnings from branch lines created after 1992 in Karnataka, Bihar and West Bengal by Minister C.K. Jaffer Sharief? There will be no likelihood for the same! Because it will divulge the underlying fact that despite being not at all feasible, these new lines were selected for implementation due to the high-handedness of political lobbies that manipulated the railway regime.
It was the Railway Minister C.K.Jaffer Sherief (1991-95) who commenced the style of functioning by concentrating and prioritizing much of the gauge conversion and new B.G lines in the Cabinet Minister’s home state in mid nineties through Railway Budgets. Can we forget the way the M.G. lines connecting Hassan ( Bangalore – Arsikere – Hassan and Bangalore – Mysore-Hassan M.G.Sections) were converted into B.G in a record time, upon getting top priority when the Railway regime’s Conversion projects were centered around Bangalore under the nose of then Railway Minister hailing from Karnataka? He set a very bad precedent for treating developmental projects, mainly gauge conversions and sanctioning of new lines for pleasing the electorate in his home state, which was rightly followed up to the regime by last year’s incumbent Mamata Banerjee. Evidently C.K. Jaffer Sherief was the role model for his successors like Ram Vilas Paswan, Nitish Kumar and Laloo Prasad Yadav.
Emergence of Pollachi – Thrissur Chord Line:
The gauge conversion of Palakkad - Kollengode-Pollachi- Palani-Udumalaipet-DIndigul sector is being done in a phased manner. Conversion work in the Dindigul-Palani section is almost completed and Palani-Pollchi is under Work-in-Process. People of the Thrissur- Nenmara- Kollengode (Kerala) and Pollachi- Udumalaipet- Palani ( T.N) regions have lot of expectations on the B.G connectivity between Palakkad and Dindigul (180 k.m) as well as between Podanur to Pollachi (40 k.m).
If the new line between Kollengode and Thrissur is made possible, it will establish the shortest route from Madurai/Tiruchcchi regions in Central Tamil Nadu to the Cochin regions of Kerala state. Trains between the Madurai/Tiruchchi and Thrissur, Guruvayur, Ernakulam, Alleppy etc. can be operated through Pollachi – Kollengode – Thrissur route, by-passing the traffic saturated Palakkad – Ottappalam – Shoranur/ Thrissur sections. Trains towards Malabar region, Mangalore and beyond through Konakan railways to Uduppi, Goa, Mumbai etc. can move through Pollachi- Kollengode- Thrissur- Shoranur Jn. as well as through Pollachi-Kolengode – Palakkad - Shoranur. In reality the gauge conversion in the Dindigul – Palakkad sector and also the new line between Kollengode and Thrissur will facilitate Tamil Nadu to become one of the major beneficiary states of the Konkan Railways.
The existing Pollachi – Kollengode - Palakkad section (58 k.m) currently under B.G conversion, wherein the Pollachi – Kollengode is with a distance of 35 k.m. Though the proposed line connects two towns within the State of Kerala, it will pave the way for establishing a direct green corridor from Tiruchchi - Dindigul - Pollachi region in Central Tamil Nadu to Thrissur, the Pooram city in Central Kerala. Both States will be equally benefitted from this proposed railway line which is pertinent for the trade, commerce and tourism in both Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
The distance from Madurai to Ernakulam through Sengottai – Punalur - Kollam and Alappuza, (after the gauge conversion in Sengottai – Punalur sections) is 411 k.m. Once the gauge conversion between Dindigul – Palakkad sections is over and if a B.G. link between Kollengode and Thrissur becomes a reality, a fresh ‘ Madurai – Thrissur’ B.G route will emerge out . The Madurai- Dindigul- Palani - Pollachi- Kollengode - Thrissur section will offer a shortest route to Ernakulam with only 351 k.m. Thus there will be a reduction of 60 km in the distance between Madurai, the temple city and Ernakulam (Kochi) the“Queen of Arabian Sea”. Actually out of this reduced distance of 60 k.m, the Kollengode – Thrissur line which facilitates direct linking of Thrissur with Kollengode through Nenmmara, bypassing the traffic saturated Palakkad contributes to 46 k.m!
The distance from Tiruchchi (Trichy) to Thrissur, Guruvayur or Ernakulam/Cochin ( via. Manappara- Dindigul – Palani – Udumalaipettai- Pollachi – Kollengode - Nenmara-Vadakkumcherry- Kuthiran-Pattikkad-Mannuthy-Thrissur) will be less by 69 k.m** when compared with the present round-about Tiruchchi- Karur -Erode – Podanur- Palakkad – Ottapalam – Wadakkancherry – Thrissur route.
Further in future, the Thrissur- Nenmara – Kollengode - Pollachi- Podanur B.G.sections (129 k.m) will serve as an alternative route to the busy Thrissur- Palakkad Jn. – Podanur Jn. (125 k.m), a double-lined trunk section. Though lengthier by 4 k.m, Southern Railways will find this route through the valley of Nelliyampathy hills as a ‘third line’ between Podanur and Thrissur, as it by-passes the busy Palakkad Jn.!
This railway line offers adequate scope to operating round the clock pilgrim shuttle services between Palani and Guruvayur to cover a distance of 176 K.m within four and half hours. Operation both Express and Fast Passenger trains through Dindigul- Palani –Pollachi –Kollengode-Nenmara- Thrissur line connecting trunk-route railheads of Tamil Nadu and Kerala (Maduarai/Tiruchchi/Dindigul and Thrissur/Ernakulam) will enhance the potential for traffic earnings and optimum utilisation of rolling stocks.
It is very significant that the proposed Kollengode – Thrissur line passes through Nenmara, the gate-way of Nelliyampathy Hill- Station. Nelliyampathy is an upcoming tourist destination and also an ideal out-door shooting location for movie makers in Southern India. The town is better known for spectacular show of elephants’ parade and fireworks displayed at the Nenmara- Vallenghy Vela Festival, held in the first week of April every year
Kollengode – Thrissur line that facilitates a chord line from Pollachi, the industrial town in Coimbatore district of Tamil Nadu well-known for the biggest market for vegetables, agro products, hill produce etc., to Thrissur the city in central Kerala, known for the Pooram festival, should never carry the tag of a branch-line within the boundary of Kerala. The line establishes Pollachi – Kollengode – Thrissur inter-state ‘chord-line’ (89 k.m). It will never be extraneous if Tamil Nadu comes forward initiating for this ‘Chord Line’ knowing the potential for augmenting tourism and trade, even if Kerala is not keen on advocating for the same!
The Pollachi – Kollengode -Thrissur ‘chord’ rail-link will be advantageous for the tourism development of Nelliyampathy (Kerala), Valparai (TN), Top Slip (TN) hill-stations and many water reservoirs in the region- Pothundy, Mangalam, Peechi, Malampuzha, Chulliar, Meenkara, Aliar, Sholaiyar, Kadamparai, Nirayar and Parambikkulam. Ultimately this line will add value to the tourism potential of these hill-stations and nearby dams with gardens, amusement parks, boating lakes, resorts etc. that can be easily accessible by foreign tourists landing at Kochi, Kozhikkode or Coimbatore airports.
It is a different issue that Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi who had presented the current year’s railway budget underwent a unique situation wherein the whole of the party to which he was associated turned against him and threatened to sack him if the hike in passenger fares are not rolled back. The hapless minister Dinesh Trivedi had resigned even prior to the completion of debates in respect of his budget in the parliament. The incumbent Minister Mukul Roy ( who was nominated to Rajya Sabha solely as a replacement for Dinesh Trivedi) must look into the facts in respect of the decades’ long pending Kollengode – Thrissur railway line.
Railway ministry must gracefully take note of the potential of the Kollengode – Thrissur railway line and vacate the project out of repeated and callous resurveys. It is fine if the ministry instantaneously takes forward the project that can augment traffic earnings and optimal operation of rolling stocks of Southern Railway for implementation in the current Railway Budget itself and undo the injustice done all these years.
Madan Menon Thottasseri
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