Kerala will get a special railway corridor along its 532-km length by 2024, as the state government is set to build a Rs 66,079-crore rail line that will enable semi-high speed trains ply between upstate Kasaragod and the capital city of Thiruvananthapuram.

A Cabinet meeting of the state’s ministers gave clearance to the implementation of the mega infrastructure project by the Kerala Rail Development Corporation Limited (KRDCL), a joint venture of Government of Kerala and Ministry of Railways.

The completion of the double line spanning 532 km is expected to reduce congestion along the state’s railway traffic that is already 115 per cent of its capacity, according to V.Ajith Kumar, Managing Director, KRDCL.

KRDCL will have to acquire about 1,200 hectares of land for the project that will have the rails elevated along urban stretches. The trains will run at a maximum speed of 200 km per hour. They will initially have nine coaches, and the number will be subsequently enhanced to 12. The travel charge is projected to be Rs 2.75 per km, and there will be an annual hike of 7.5 per cent, he added.

KRDCL expects a ridership of 67,740 passengers a day. It estimates to carry 1,330 travellers in one direction at peak hours. The average number of travellers a day will be 82,266 by 2028, 116,681 by 2040 and 147,120 in 2051. As for employment, the project will generate 50,000 jobs during the construction of the corridor and 11,000 once it is functional after completion.

The announcement of the governmental nod to the project, made by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan following a Cabinet meeting here last week, comes a year after KRDCL initiated a preliminary feasibility study and found the project “viable”. Hereafter the feasibility report will be forwarded to Railway Ministry for their in-principle approval. In the meantime, KRDCL will be completing the preparation of DPR (Detailed Project Report) by around November 2019.

For meeting the expenses of the Rs 66,079-crore project, Rs 34,454 crore will come as loans. The Centre and state will need to provide Rs 7,720 crore each. The Kerala government will spend Rs 8,656 crore on land acquisition and allied matters. The rest of the expenses will be met through other loans by the union and state governments, said Ajith Kumar.

Thiruvananthapuram-headquartered KRDCL, floated in January 2017, is a joint venture between the Kerala government and the Railways to execute viable railway projects on acost-sharing basis.

The feasibility study, carried out by Paris-based Systra as the general consultant for the KRDCL, had projected the internal rate of return as 5.6 per cent and 8.1 per cent for 30 and 50 years, respectively.

As a 100 per cent green project, the Semi High-Speed Rail (SHSR) line is expected to reduce journey time from Thiruvananthapuram to Kasaragod from 12 hours to just four hours. The running time between the state capital and the commercial city of Kochi will be only 90 minutes. The line is also expected to reduce both congestion and pollution on the roads, improve safety and reduce dependence on imported oil. The airports at Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi will be connected in the SHSR.

The rail line will pass through eleven of the state’s 14 districts, and will stop at 10 stations. Up its northward course from Thiruvananthapuram, these stations will be Kollam, Chengannur, Kottayam, Ernakulam, Thrissur, Tirur, Kozhikode and Kannur before reaching Kasaragod.

Between Thiruvananthapuram and Tirur in central Kerala, the proposed project will pass by a stretch that is different from the existing railway line, since the existing Rail line has large number of curves that limits the speed. From Tirur upward, the line will run parallel to the existing track up till Kasaragod. There will be underpasses for road traffic at every 500 metres.

Keeping in mind the maintenance aspect, the rail corridor will also have roads parallel to it. This will open up the land along the new rail corridor which will increase their market value.

The SHSR line will be green. For this, KRDCL will be tying up with IIM-Ahmedabad. It plans to depend heavily on solar power generation and re-used concrete and steel. The corporation is set to adopt last-mile connectivity, with system-driven e-vehicle public transport system, multi-modal integration, charging and parking stations, which would take Kerala to next generation of urban mobility.

Planned urban development of the cities along the corridor and development of new cities down the SHSR line can derive benefits for the socio-economic development in the regions served by the line, he added.

The strategies proposed to be adopted during construction includes recycling steel and concrete, diversion of construction waste from landfills through reuse and recycling, use of new, low emission construction equipment, replacement of inefficient truck engines and irrigation pumps, and urban forestry programme. The station buildings, depots, administrative building and other service structures will be designed based on the platinum rating standard of Indian Green Building Council.

The rail corridor will also help stem pollution by buses and other private vehicles on the road. By 2028, SHSR will reduce road vehicles and trucks causing reduction of approximately 2,37,663 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent and 3,81,899 tons by 2051.

SHSR will adopt latest world-class rail system technology such as signalling system of ERTMS level-2 with automatic train control system, communication, ticketing, rolling stock fully air-conditioned with modern passenger amenities and maximum regeneration capability and power supply system with the latest electric traction system (2×25 KV). Further, modern railway stations will provide battery-run vehicles and facility to charge them electrically.

By Manoj

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