Velachery – St Thomas Mount MRTS Line could soon be open, but some concerns remain

Velachery - St Thomas Mount MRTS Line has been a long-pending demand. But will it really be ready for commute by March 2023, as promised?

The construction of an elevated rail line on a 5-kilometre stretch between Velachery and St Thomas Mount began in 2000, as part of the Mass Rapid Transit System’s (MRTS) extension project in Chennai. While the MRTS lines between Beach to Mylapore and Mylapore to Velachery have been operational for many years, the line between Velachery and St Thomas Mount that passes through Puzhudhivakkam and Adambakkam has been delayed forever.

The primary reason for the delay was litigation related to the land acquisition of a 500-metre stretch between Jeeva Nagar and St Thomas Mount. With the litigation ending nearly a year ago and the issues related to compensations getting resolved, the government has resumed work with the promise that the route would be open for public use by March 2023.

Though the construction of railway stations in places like Puzhuthivakkam and Adambakkam near Velachery has been completed, the residents continue to have a few more grievances about these stations as well that remains to be addressed.

Read more: It’s been 23 years, when will MRTS Phase-2 see completion?

Gaps to be filled by Velachery – St Thomas Mount Line

Many who reside between Velachery and St Thomas Mount suffer from a lack of proper access to public transport. R Kanagaraj, President of AGS Colony Residents Welfare Association says, ” Our locality has only a few buses plying between T Nagar and AGS Colony via Saidapet and Guindy. All those who have to go to other places like Tambaram, Mylapore or Central would have to change from the bus to local trains or take another bus to reach their destination.”

Unlike other areas in Chennai, where share autos have substituted public transport, the said stretch of residential areas is not connected even by share autos. “The auto drivers in our locality prevented the entry of share autos as it would affect their business and thus we rely completely on buses for public transport apart from our vehicles. Since not many people here could afford a car, taking their children and wife by two-wheelers through bike on the busy roads also pose safety issues,” says Kanagaraj.

Once operational, the Velachery – St Thomas Mount line will serve as a reliable mode of transport for these residents to reach other core areas in the city. Those using the facility could park their bikes at the Puzhuthivakkam and Adambakkam stations and take trains to travel on either side of the city. It will also make St Thomas Mount the only station in India that is connected to all three city rail networks – the Metro, MRTS and suburban services.

Grievances with Velachery – St Thomas Mount Line

MRTS station in Puzhuthivakkam Chennai
The MRTS railway stations constructed in Puzhuthivakkam and Adambakkam in Chennai lack maintenance, complain residents. Pic: K Bhaskar

Though the residents welcome the project and are awaiting its completion, they also have some grievances that the government has not yet addressed. Bhaskar K, President of Saraswathi Nagar Residents Welfare Association, points out that the Puzhuthivakkam and Adambakkam stations, which were constructed recently, have turned into a hub for anti-social activities.

The stations have not been operational due to the delay in the completion of the Velachery – St Thomas Mount line.

“A sight of these stations will tell you how public money has been wasted. The constructed building lacks maintenance. One can find empty liquor bottles all over the place. It has also become the site for open defecation by local workers,” says Bhaskar.

The residents also suggest that until the works to connect the route with St Thomas Mount are completed, the train service between Beach and Adambakkam stations could be made operational for convenience.

“The trains were earlier operated between Thirumayilai and Thiruvanmaiyur stations though works to connect the route with Taramani was underway. In a similar way, the trains could be operated along this route now,” they note.

The residents also have issues with connectivity to the MRTS stations. “Saraswathi Nagar 7th Street is connected to the Puzhuthivakkam station on one side of the station. The residents can use this lane to reach the station and park their bikes there before taking the train. However, if they have to come from Velachery Ring road, then they have to travel around 1 km to reach the station. Unless the Ring Road is connected to the station directly, it will leave the residents to rely on two-wheelers or autos putting the last mile connectivity in question,” says Bhaskar.

Read more: Why Chennai’s suburban rail passengers are struggling to get their voices heard

Will the project be completed by 2023?

“Of the 5 km stretch, all the work, including tracks and signalling, have been completed for the 4.5 km stretch between Velachery and Adambakkam. Sub-structure works, including the construction of pillars and beams, have been completed in the other 500 meters between Adambakkam and St Thomas Mount. Superstructure works, which include concrete girders, are being carried out now. The works are directly monitored by the railway board and the contractor has also picked up momentum to complete the works by the given deadline,” says an official with Southern Railways.

As the stations constructed in Adambakkam and Puzhuthivakkam were not put into operation, they lack maintenance. Southern Railways is set to look into any such problems along the route and address them prior to the line becoming operational.

“Safety and technical concerns are present in operating the trains between Beach and Adambakkam. The trains cannot be changed over to the other track as the facility to change tracks would be available only at St Thomas Mount,” says the official.

Having been delayed for many years, the rise in the material price and labour cost has resulted in an increase in the project cost from Rs 495.74 crore to Rs 734.01 crore.

Despite the recent progress, the long wait has led to residents being sceptical that the line will be open to the public in March 2023.

“We have seen so many Marches go by. Only if the government increases the manpower and expedites the work will they be able to complete the works by the coming March,” says Kanagaraj.

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