Metro man E Sreedharan has said the much-touted Thiruvananthapuram-Kasaragod semi high-speed rail corridor (SilverLine) project is a great folly.
“The alignment chosen is flawed. From Tirur to Kasaragod, it runs parallel to the existing railway line. The Railways has opposed this alignment as it would interfere with the future quadrupling of this stretch. Besides, 140km of the line passes through paddy fields, which are not stable for high-speed travel,” he said, adding that high walls need to be constructed on either side of the tracks to prevent trespassing, blocking free passage and drainage.
“This will be equivalent to the China wall and will divide Kerala from north to south. This is an idiotic decision. SilverLine should be away from the existing line, either elevated or underground. Nowhere in the world high-speed or semi high-speed lines are planned at the ground level,” he said, in a detailed write-up shared with TNIE.
The comments by Sreedharan, who is credited with the successful construction of Konkan Railway, the Delhi Metro and Kochi Metro Rail, followed Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s public accusation that the Opposition UDF and BJP are blocking developmental works in the state with particular reference to the SilverLine project. CPM politburo member Kodiyeri Balakrishnan had also echoed the same.
The K-Rail project envisages a 529.45-kilometre-long semi high-speed railway line passing through 11 districts. As per the plan, when the project is realised, one can travel from Kasaragod to Thiruvananthapuram in less than four hours on trains travelling at 200 km/hr. The current travel time on the existing Indian Railways network is 12 hours.
Sreedharan, who contested as a BJP candidate from Palakkad assembly constituency, justified the party’s opposition to the K-Rail project, stating that the government cannot be allowed to take people for a ride with false promises, wrong cost estimates, unrealistic completion dates and flawed technical parameters. “Kerala is in a financial crisis. How will it fund the Rs 1.1 lakh-crore project? It is not viable,” he asked.
“Yes, the BJP is against the SilverLine project for the reason that the project as conceived now is totally against the state’s interests for several reasons,” Sreedharan said.
On the technical parameters, he said SilverLine has not been approved by the Railways, particularly the gauge. The Railways wants this line to function as a third and fourth line, to complement the present line capacity. This is not possible with a standard gauge.
To increase revenue, RO-RO services on the SilverLine are planned for the evenings. “It’s not practical, as night hours are needed for maintenance. Moreover, no final location survey has been conducted on the ground. Finalising railway alignment based on Google Maps or Lidar survey is not acceptable, particularly when land acquisition is being pursued with undue haste. When the actual final location survey is done, there will be a lot of changes, and half the land acquisition will be wasted,” he explained.
“No traffic survey, no geotechnical survey, no environmental study and no social impact study have been conducted. The DPR prepared is mostly based on assumptions and hypotheses. Naturally, the cost estimates, traffic projections and economics of the line are not reliable. The contents of the DPR are kept secret,” said Sreedharan.
He also pointed out that the cost estimate has been suppressed on the basis that the line is at grade (ground level). The public will not agree for a high-speed line to be located at grade. This is the biggest objection to the project, not only from the public but also from railway experts, environmentalists and ecological considerations.
“A semi high-speed line located at grade will displace a large number of families. A rough estimate is more than 20,000 families will have to be relocated. The land-hungry people of Kerala will not accept this,” he said.
According to his estimate, SilverLine will cost `75,000 crore at present and more than `1.1 lakh crore on completion. “My estimate is based on the last accepted rates of Delhi Rapid Rail Transit System (RRTS), which has a maximum speed of 180 kmph,” he said.
On Kerala Rail Development Corporation’s claim to complete the project by 2025, he said this itself shows how ignorant the project agency is. Even the best executing agency in the country, like Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, will take eight to 10 years to complete such a project. KRDCL has not been able to start even one rail overbridge of the 27 entrusted with them in the last five years.
In response to the CM’s accusation that the BJP is blocking developmental works in Kerala, Sreedharan asked who had stopped DMRC from starting the most essential railway line, from Nilambur to Nanjangud, which would have reduced the rail distance from Shoranur to Mysuru by 471km and Bengaluru by 197km. The Karnataka government had permitted DMRC to take up this work. The extension of the Thrissur-Guruvayur line to Thirunavaya would have solved the heavy congestion at Shoranur Jn.
“Why is the doubling work in Kerala so slow? Because the state government is not able to hand over the land. Who stopped the light metro projects in Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode started by the UDF government? If the project was allowed to continue, metro trains would be now running in Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode. The high-speed railway, started by the V S Achuthanandan government in 2010, was stopped in 2016 by whom? Strangely, even among the LDF, many are against the SilverLine project, but they are not allowed to express their opinion. The state government’s attempts to bypass the Railway Board by offering to bear the entire cost of the project will be a total mistake. Who authorised this government to make this impossible commitment? Not our MLAs,” he said.