Chennai Metro Rail from Little Mount to Airport Inaugurated. But is it really needed?

The Chennai metro Rail from Little Mount to the Chennai Airport was inaugurated today and I was happy to travel in it.

The line goes through Alandur where people can change lines to go to CMBT (and Poonamallee high road in the future). There is a loop facility that allows trains to interchange lines and go directly to CMBT from the airport, it has not been put to use yet as the Commissioner of Railway Safety (CMRS) has not approved of it yet. The line also goes through Guindy where people can board suburban trains. A passageway to connect the airport with the metro has been built by Airport Authorities of India, but it isn’t open yet (according to a security personnel, it should take another month).

Map of the metro rail route from airport to little mount

But even with all these conveniences is this stretch really needed? A major portion of this stretch (Guindy to the Airport) is being served by the Tambaram to Chennai Beach suburban train line. Lets look at it station by station.

  • Little Mount — not served (between guindy and saidapet)
  • Guindy — on the suburban route
  • Alandur — serves as a link between the two lines, so the line is needed uptill this point
  • Nanganallur Road — Majorly an army area. Not too many people in and around this route.
  • Meenambakam — on the suburban route
  • Airport — on the suburban route

With these points, I would say that the stretch from Alandur to the Airport quite redundant as it is already being served by suburban trains. People will say that suburban trains are not as convenient as the metro rail and so a metro rail to the airport (with links to both CMBT and central) is desirable. But its a system that has been working and moves lakhs of people everyday whereas the metro rail till date is barely moving thousands (possibly because of high fares and/or a small operating area). The suburban train from Tambaram to Beach already links the airport to central. With the St Thomas Mount metro station coming up (it should be open in a few months), CMBT will also be connected to the airport by train.

If I was planning the public transport in Chennai or any city, I would definitely want to upgrade the infrastructure of a system that is already working instead of building a parallel network to be more cost effective. Specific to suburban trains, I would want to have multiple entry and exit points at every station with escalators and lifts and possibly make the first class compartment an AC compartment (which could be the equivalent of a metro rail). Also increased frequency during peak hours is the need of the hour. There has been news of the metro rail taking over the operations of the MRTS system over the next few years. This could possibly be done for the suburban rail network too (once the metro rail can prove that it can operate with high traffic).

Another way to look at the redundancy is: The distance of this stretch is roughly 5km. If from Alandur I build 5km in the Poonamallee direction (instead of the airport direction), I reach somewhere near DLF IT Park. Having observed the rush that goes from Guindy in this direction, I’m sure it could get a good number of people moving from buses/two wheelers/cars to the metro rail system in the future (when the underground corridor on Anna Salai is also complete). This is good value addition especially because even phase two of the Chennai metro is not covering the Poonamallee direction.

The Chennai Metro Rail is good for Chennai. But it should complement existing public transport systems instead of being something built in parallel. It should aim to take the masses out of jam packed buses (read bus routes 29C, 47A etc). It should aim to get people driving private cars to take the metro rail (read OMR). It shouldn’t aim to provide an alternative to something that exists. Instead, the existing systems should use the latest technologies to provide a better public transport system in Chennai.