THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: For a state like Kerala which is blessed with rich biodiversity, the semi high-speed rail project will bring an inconceivable disaster to the ecosystem. The state, which is one of the most land starved in the country for development works due to low per capita landholding, is now looking for a sustainable development model in view of the impact of climate change, including two back-to-back floods.

The feasibility study conducted for the SilverLine project found that the rail line will be passing through some of the most vulnerable places like flood plains in the state. For instance, the proposed Kollam station and yard and Kasaragod yard are in flood plains. The study suggests these areas need a detailed plan to avoid flooding.

Further, the rail line will mostly pass through embankments at a height of 5-6 metres which will divide the watersheds in many areas. In some zones, the water flow is towards the east when it is towards west in all other places. Hence, a project without a scientific solution for proper drainage in vulnerable areas like banking portions of the rail lines to avoid waterlogging would be catastrophic during monsoon.

“Further, construction of boundary or retention walls along 394km of the tracks, ranging from eight-foot to 10-foot height on both sides, will be blocking water flow of 30 rivers from the east to west,” said social activist M T Thomas.

D Dhanuraj, chairman, Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR), said Kerala has certain limitations for experimenting with new development models. The unique geography of the state suggests the development of existing urban transport systems.

“Doubling the existing rail lines between Ernakulam and Thiruvananthapuram and laying the third and fourth lines between Ernakulam and Shoranur will considerably reduce the travel time between north and south in Kerala. Further, switching to an automatic signal system and fixing the sharp curves and gradients in the existing rail lines should be our immediate priority. This would enhance the speed of trains in Kerala significantly. Along with this, the existing state and national highways and waterways should be developed in a phased manner,” he said.

Developing air strips in districts which do not have any airports will be more economical than a semi high-speed rail. Aviation expert Jacob K Philip said, “By spending around Rs 200 crore, an air strip can be developed in around 100 acres of land, including a 4,000-ft runway, air traffic control room and other ancillary buildings and security area.

This article was published in The New Indian Express

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