Union railway minister Suresh Prabhu has announced a grand plan to build elevated corridors on the existing western and harbour railway lines, providing road and rail connectivity between Churchgate-Virar and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus-Panvel. Prabhu’s announcement came soon after the agitation by commuters on the Central Railway. He held a meeting with chief minister Devendra Fadnavis to improve mass transport in Mumbai and surrounding areas.
On paper, the plan looks good — maybe a bit like fantasy. Railway officials are figuring out whether it would be feasible and how the double-deck corridor above the existing railway lines or an elevated corridor with road and rail lines built side-by-side can be constructed. The project could cost a bomb. As per the current estimates, Churchgate-Virar elevated corridor would cost over Rs20,000 crore, while the cost of CSTPanvel elevated corridor would be over Rs 10,000 crore. The cost of both the projects would further increase, leading to a vital question — would they be financially feasible? Following the announcement, state officials dealing with infrastructure are raising another question: won’t they compete with other infrastructure projects that are in the pipeline?
The state is already planning an underground Metro from Colaba to Seepz near Andheri, which will be parallel to the Churchgate-Virar elevated corridor to an extent. At the same time, the government is also pushing for construction of a coastal road connecting south Mumbai with western suburbs. The Sion-Panvel highway was recently expanded to cater to growing number of vehicles. The government has also planned Mumbai TransHarbour Link by connecting Sewree (Mumbai) and Nhava (Raigad) through a sealink. Both these projects would directly compete with CSTPanvel elevated road above the harbour rail line. The MMRDA has started work on the VirarAlibaug multi-modal corridor, while the Union transport ministry is keen on a JNPT (Raigad)-Baroda road corridor.
This is what the experts are wary about. Different state and central agencies are planning different infrastructure projects without having an integrated plan in place. There is little coordination between them. According to urban planners and transport experts, Mumbai has crossed the saturation point long ago and there is an urgent need to develop mass transport infrastructure within the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), which is currently witnessing growth. The MMRDA and Railways can work together in that direction, they point out.
Suburban railway network, connecting existing railway lines with Bhiwandi, Uran, Alibaug and Shahpur, would address the issue of mass transport. The Thane-Vashi suburban railway link has already proved this. Experts are also wondering why the authorities are not thinking of a mass transport while planning mega projects. The government wants to spend billions of rupees (even if it’s a private project, a part of the cost comes from state’s coffers) on projects such as coastal road and MTHL, but it doesn’t think of making dedicated bus lanes and mass transport like rail or Metro line as part of the same. Whose interests would be served by this? Is it because the private party building these projects would get returns on its investment only if more motorists use them?
Politicians don’t seem to be in the mood to step back and look at the issue of integrated planning. Both Prabhu and Fadnavis discussed possibility of forming an authority for coordinated supervision of Mumbai’s transport projects. Such an authority with representatives of all agencies governing Mumbai is needed to ensure that practical and feasible transport solutions are worked out for Mumbai and MMR. The sooner they do it the better it would be for all of us.