November 08, 2005

Trams on the Eastern Metropolitan ByPass

Trams in Calcutta have a chequered history. While they are picturesque part of the colonial heritage, trams are often viewed as an impediment to the entire process of traffic management in Calcutta. On the other hand, trams have a charm of their own since they are non-polluting and are more people friendly when compared to the monstrosity of smoke-belching, ramshakle buses and the pestering annoyance the ubiquitious auto-rickshaw.

However who ever has taken a tram ride through the Maidan area from Kidderpore to Esplanade would certainly wish that they could keep on going for ever and ever .. so delightful is the experience of breezing through the great open spaces. ... and that is the genesis of my suggestion.

The Eastern Metropolitan Bypass is a vast highway that connects the emerging Rajarhat area to southern suburbs of Garia and beyond. Why not have a tram service that runs along this route ?

Anybody who has travelled along this emerging corridor would see clumps of hapless people waiting for transport at each of the 'nodes' : the Saltlake stadium, the Chingrihata flyover, the Science City/Park Circus connector, the Ruby Hospital / Kasba connector .... and of course the terminal points at Ultadanga and Garia. So there is no dearth of commuters or customers for this service. Moreover the new high rise apartments that have come up, or are coming up, along the highway would supply a ready pool of willing commuters who would prefer the tram to a ramshackle bus anyway.

The bypass currently runs through relatively empty land. So there are no shanties to be demolished, no alternate housing to be provided. There is enough land along the bypass so that laying of tram tracks would not create any new traffic bottleneck. Ten years later, these advantages would have disappeared completely ... so the time is now. The government needs to act fast.

We have heard of an elevated rail system that will connect the airport to the southern fringes of the city but that is still a pipe dream at the moment. Given the politics and bureaucracy in the system, it will be years before anything will come out ... and by that time it will be too late.

Instead, we have a today an existing, if not dysfunctional, tram company. Why not privatise it, at least partially, and use the proceeds to lay new tram tracks from the Airport, through Rajarhat, through the Saltlake Electronics City, upto Chingrihata and then along the ByPasss all the way past Science City, past Ruby Hospital, through Ashoknagar, upto Garia ... and with a bit of luck upto the new township of Baruipur itself.

In parallel, tram services should be withdrawn from the downtown, so that the narrow congested streets of North and Central Calcutta are freed up. Valuable land locked up as tram depots in the heart of the city can be sold for a profit and the proceeds utilised to fund the new tram route. No one needs to be retrenched so there is no labour issue ...

And Calcutta will have a wonderful new tram service that connects the two emerging hubs -- Rajarhat in the North and Baruipur in the South -- in an elegant manner.

It would be wonderful if the government can think along these lines.

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