CPPR Chairman Dr D Dhanuraj comments in a article written in the Hindu on the proposed semi-high-speed rail corridor project (named Silver Line)

The Kerala Rail Development Corporation (KRDCL) is confident that the ₹66,405-crore Thiruvananthapuram-Kasaragod semi-high-speed rail corridor project (named Silver Line) for which year 2024 has been set as the deadline, will be economically feasible and attain operational break-even, within 10 years of being commissioned.

Of the total cost of the 532-km project, around 50% will be loan at less than 1% interest from multilateral lending agencies such as KfW, AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank), JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency), or ADB (Asian Development Bank). Repayment is assured since there will be a rate of return of 8.1% on the investment. The balance amount will be raised from equity and (subordinate) debt from from the State and Central governments, apart from other sources, said V. Ajith Kumar, managing director of KRDCL.

Wooing car users

On whether the ticket fare of ₹2.75 per km will be increased, he said there could be a yearly escalation of approximately 7.50%. “This is affordable even for people who travel by car or SUV, for which approximately ₹10 will have to be spent per km on fuel, wear and tear etc. This will be apart from lessening of north-south commuting time from 12 hours by different modes of transport to four hours by Silver Line. Driver fatigue too can be done away with.”

To a question on doubts about the economic feasibility of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed corridor, he said its project cost and ticket fare for a comparable distance would be double that of Silver Line. The Kerala project will also usher in transit-oriented development (TOD) in the vicinity of 10 major stations and 27 feeder/aggregate stations en route. The TOD will, in turn, maximise non-fare-box revenue. Special trains will operate between the feeder stations, to collect commuters and ferry them to Silver Line stations. These feeder trains will have more space for commuters than regular trains, Mr. Ajith Kumar said.

Sceptics and supporters of the project

There are some like D. Dhanuraj, chairman of city-based think tank Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR), who are sceptical of the project. “I am not against the project. But passenger patronage is number (volume) driven. Many changes will happen in our lives in the coming years with the introduction of 5G, 3D printing, etc…”

“I wish the railway track doubling through Kottayam and Alappuzha is completed at the earliest and steps taken to improve the speed to over 100 kmph. Issues such as slow-moving trains can be overcome if a fraction of the cost of the mega project is spent on straightening curves, introducing automatic signalling, etc., in the existing railway corridor. For this, both Railways and the State must come up with pro-active measures,” Mr. Dhanuraj said.

There are others such as Rittu Jacob who are awaiting the commissioning of the Silver Line rail project. “People would prefer to live in less-expensive towns such as Kottayam, Alappuzha, and Thrissur and and travel to work in Kochi, since the State is planning an integrated station at Infopark for Silver Line and Kochi Metro,” he said.

Commuters from other districts will opt for Silver Line if the fare is advantageous as compared to investing in a house in Kochi. Already over half of Kochi residents are from other districts, said Mr. Jacob.

This article was published in the Hindu on November 10, 2019 Click here to read

Click here to read the comment by D Dhanuraj