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Madan Menon Thottasseri
During the last few years the Railway Budgets have come out with a bouquet of offers for passengers and corporate by rightly using a series of marketing techniques purportedly to support the demanding needs of the market economy. Each year the Budget gave emphasis on the big task of gauge conversions, one of the critical factors for improvement of rail transport services. The fact remains that it is neither the operational viability nor the feasibility for enhanced traffic earnings that entails an M.G.line for conversion, but the strength of political lobbies on its favour. Right from the very declaration of the "Uni-Gauge" Policy in the year 1992, Conversion works were actively carried out in Tamilnadu simultaneously when B.G.lines for new routes were also constructed. The gauge conversion in the Tiruchchi and Dindigul section isolated the M.G.network centered around Dindigul and Madurai. Thus when the Karur- Dindigul ( new route)-Madurai B.G.Line was constructed, the M.G. track in the Dindigul- Madurai section was not dismantled and laid a new B.G.parallel line. The retained old M.G.Line enabled undisturbed passenger and goods traffic in the Rameswaram–Manamadurai-Madurai–Dindigul-Pollachi- Palakkad Jn. /Coimbatore Jn. M.G. Sections during the past few years. The Maduari- Rameswaram Conversion Project was completed in a phased manner, initially the Madurai-Manamadurai section and later on the Manamadurai-Rameswaram section.After the conversion of the Madurai-Manamadurai (48 k.m) line, Maduari was cut off from the existing M.G. network in Tamilnadu centered in the Thiruchchi–Karaikkudi region. The Madurai-Bodynayakkanur M.G.section is the only existing M.G.link in the region. Last year, the conversion of once retained Madurai-Dindigul M.G.line so as to facilitate the double-line traffic in the busy B.G section lead to cession of M.G rail traffic from Madurai to Palakkad/Coimbatore. Currently the only M.G connection to Madurai is the Madurai-Bodynayakkanur M.G. section. M.G.train services to Palakkad/Coimbatore (later on only up to Podanur ) were originated or terminated at Dindigul instead of Madurai during the past two years. Prior to this, as envisaged by the Southern Railways, the Railway Budget 2006 has already proposed for the conversion of Dindigul –Palani- Pollachi – Kollengode- Palakkad Town*-Palakkad Jn. (180 k.m) and Pollachi-Podanur** - Coimbatore Jn. (46k.m) M.G.lines. Conversion of Dindigul -Palakkad Jn./ Coimbatore Jn. M.G. Sections: The budget-2006 proposal was a belated green signal for the conversion of this important M.G. section. Providing the B.G. link from Dindigul to Palakkad Jn. will facilitate passenger and goods traffic from Central Tamil Nadu to tourist destinations, industrial/ port cities in Cochin-Malabar regions of Kerala and in the west coast, through the Konkan Railway. Of course, the Konkan Railway can accommodate new trains and goods traffic only after doubling the whole length of the coastal line from Mangalore to Madgaon and Mumbai. The direct B.G.link from Dindigul to Palakkad will establish the shortest route from Madurai /Tiruchi to Alleppy, Guruvayur, Ernakulam, Thrissur and Cochin-Malabar regions of Kerala. The direct B.G.Link from Dindigul to Coimbatore Jn. through Pollachi will help the easy movement of export-cargo, mainly Tea from Nilgiris and Textiles/Garments from Coimbatore – Tiruppur industrial belt to the Tuticorin Port. This branch line (Dindigul to Palakkad/Coimbatore via Udumalaipettai, Palani and Pollachi) which connects B.G.trunk routes, upon conversion will have potential for optimum utilisation of rolling stock and augmentation of traffic earnings. Even though the Railway Budget-2006 proposed this section for the B.G. Conversion, there was no corresponding allocation of funds for the same. The Budget-2006 proposal was with the allocation of just Rs.1 crore against the Total cost of Rs.541 crores. The Railway budgets in 2007 and 2008 allocated only Rs.30 crores and Rs.65 crores respectively. Because of this only a 6 k.m long Coimbatore-Podanur section (M.G. line parallel to B.G line) alone got converted into B.G. under this project. Until recently M.G. train services between Dindigul and Palakkad/Podanur were operated. The services in the Pollachi- Kollengode-Palakkad section were terminated in December, 2008 and now the old M.G. track is being removed prior to the earth work to be carried out. The train services in Dindigul-Pollachi-Podanur sections were terminated on 26th May, 2009, to commence the removal of old M.G.tracks. KOLLENGODE – THRISSUR Railway Line (59 k.m), the New GREEN CORRIDOR to be opened! Kollengode is a town (the erstwhile tiny princely state, now in the Palakkad Dist., Kerala) is having the rail connection with the Pollachi - Palghat M.G.Section. Thrissur, the city of Pooram Festival and cultural capital of Kerala is lying in between Palakkad/Shoranur and Ernakulam, in the Chennai–Salem-Podanur-Palakkad–Ernakulam-Trivandrum and Ernakulam-Shoranur-Kozhikkode-Kannur-Mangalore B.G.trunk routes. A traffic survey for connecting Kollengode and Thrissur was done in the year 1965. The Ministry was reluctant to sanction it as a B.G.line due to paucity of funds then. Further, at that time an M.G.line will be ideal when Kollengode becomes a Railway Junction and an entry-point directly from Thrissur to Pollachi (by-passing Palakkad) for annexing with the big M.G. network of Tamilnadu. The proposed line had a high potential to operate direct trains from Thrissur to many temple towns of Tamilnadu. Unfortunately, the then Kerala Government and Southern Railway were in no mood to compromise with an M.G.Line instead, despite knowing the fact that the M.G.link from Thrissur can be easily extended to the nearby temple town Guruvayur! The Project was finally shelved and was forgotten by the authorities. It took three decades to get the Thrissur-Guruvayur rail link when the 23 k.m B.G.line was opened for traffic in the year 1995! At present there is a popular demand for direct trains between Guruvayur and cities/ Temple towns of other states. We are unaware on the facility of direct travel (by M.G.trains) lost to us between Thrissur , the near by Pooram City and temple towns in the neighbouring Tamilnadu viz. Palani, Madurai,Rameswaram etc. through Kollengode, forty years' back! Had the M.G. rail link between Kollengode and Thrissur been established then, say in late Sixties, the just 23 k.m.long Trichur- Guruvayur rail link would have become an immediate reality, probably as a Mixed-Gauge line! It is to be noted that the traffic survey for Salem – Bangalore line (215 k.m) via Dharmapuri and Hosur, was also conducted together with that of Kollengode-Trissur line, by the eminent Padmasree P.N.Baskaran Nair (late), architect of Rajadhani Express Trains and exponent of modern technology in railway line constructions. This line was also sanctioned as an M.G.Line. When the Ministry didn't heed to the request of political lobbies for the getting it as a B.G. line, the Southern Railway prevailed on the Ministry with the support of the Tamilnadu Government and compromised for an M.G. Line in the year 1985, with certain conditions. Accordingly B.G.standards were maintained and adequate space provisions were made while constructing culverts, bridges and level crossings etc. for the M. G line, so as to facilitate easy conversion in the future. This line got the first place in the B.G. Conversion List of Southern Railway upon the declaration of "Project Uni-Gauge" in the year1992. The converted B.G. line was opened for traffic in the year 1996. Similarly, in the case of Hassan-Mangalore (189 k.m) line also, after the survey by the same renowned expert in the mid Seventies, sanction was given only for an M.G.link that was considered safe and suitable for the mountainous terrain. The construction of this M.G.line was on priority basis, despite the huge cost involved. The other two M.G.lines connecting Hassan ( Bangalore – Arsikere – Hassan and Bangalore – Mysore-Hassan M.G.Sections) were converted into B.G in a record time by mid Nineties, upon getting top priority when the Railway regime's Conversion projects were centered around Bangalore under the nose of the then Railway Minister hailing from Karnataka. This helped the Hassan – Mangalore M.G. line (now under South-Western Railway) gets enlisted as a mega project of national importance into the B.G. conversions programmed for the 9th Five-Year Plan (1997-2002). This project at a huge cost has been carried out in a phased manner during the past few years. Providing the B.G.link between Hassan and Mangalore involves the high-tech construction of a new line atop the elevated giant concrete structures installed between the slopes of rocky mountains at both sides in the Sakleshpur- Subramanya Road- Kabakaputtur stretch (97 k.m), and not just the usual conversion of an M.G.line on the plains. The project which has over-run the cost and time is expected to be completed only by this year end. It is evident from the above that the Kollengode- Thrissur rail-link was not implemented mainly due to the lack of prudence of the then Kerala Government and Southern Railway. The successive State Governments in Kerala (as well as in Tamilnadu) were unaware of the importance of this proposed Railway Line, may be due to lack of popular demand for the same. The pressure lobbying by the private bus operators (who are against the rail-link connecting Pollachi to Thrissur via Kollengode) plying hundreds of buses in the busy Pollachi - Govindapuram–Kollengode – Nenmara – Vadakkumchery – Mannuthy -Thrissur (Inter -State Road joining with N.H.47 at Vadakkumchery) route would have contributed for the in-action of the authorities. Unfortunately, nothing happened in favour of this proposed line even at a time when one of the Ministers of States in the Railway Ministry, in the three previous regimes were from Tamilnadu or Kerala. Surprisingly, the Railway Budget-2007 called for the survey (not mentioned as "re-survey") of Kollengode-Thrissur Railway Line (now in B.G.), proving that the Ministry has not actually shelved it. Beyond doubt, there was no demand for a re-survey of this proposed line by any political fronts based in the home State. Nothing was heard about the survey in the Railway Budget-2008 and afterwards, whether the re-survey was conducted or not, unknown as on date. The proposed Kollengode – Thrissur line passes through Nenmara, the valley town of Nelliyampathy Hill- Station. Nelliyampathy is popular for holiday-resorts, orange farms, and tea and cardamom estates. At present it is an upcoming tourist destination in Central Kerala, appearing in the itinerary offered by the travel industry. Presently Nenmara is better known for the spectacular show of elephants' parade and fireworks displayed at the Nenmara- Vallenghy Vela Festival, held in the first week of April every year .The rail link will give a face-lift to the Paddy-Cultivation and Trading Centers covered under Chulliyar,Pothundy, Mangalam and Peechi irrigation projects. Boat rides in Peechi and Pothundy reservoirs attract tourists. It will be an enchanting journey by a train that chugs through the beautiful countryside surrounded by thick lush of paddy fields, rubber plantations, coconut-arconut farms and picturesque hills! The Kollengode- Pallavoor-Nenmara- Ayalur - Chittilamchery– Mudappallur-Vadakkumchery stretch and nearby villages/towns (in Chittur and Alathur taluks of Palakkad Dist.) constitute an enclave of Vela/Pooram and Kanniyarkali (a traditional dance-form to worship Goddess Bagavathy, performed in temple premises in the night hours) festivals to be held in this region,during the months of April and May. It is not an exaggeration to say that during the festival season, not even a single day passes without a celebration involving processions by adorned elephants accompanied by Chendamelams, Panchavadyams, and colourful fire-works etc. at least in a couple of temples! Though the proposed line connects two towns within the State of Kerala, it will pave the way for establishing a direct corridor from the Central Tamil Nadu (Pollachi) to the Central Kerala (Thrissur). Both States will be equally benefitted from this proposed railway line. Upon conversion of Dindigul- Pollachi- Kollengode –Palakkad into a B.G. line and the proposed new B.G.line between Kollengode and Thrissur if constructed, will establish the shortest route from Central Tamilnadu (Madurai-Dindigul-Tiruchchi region) to Cochin and Malabar regions of Kerala. Trains towards Malabar regions, Mangalore, Uduppi, Goa and beyond can move through Palakkad. Trains towards Guruvayur, Ernakulam, and Alleppy can reach Thrissur directly through the Kollengode - Thrissur line. The distance from Tiruchchi to Guruvayur/Ernakulam will be reduced by 61 k.m when compared with the present round-about B.G. (Tiruchchi- Karur -Erode – Podanur- Palakkad –Thrissur) route. Besides, distances from Madurai to Guruvayur and Ernakulam will be reduced by263k.m and115 k.m respectively when compared with the present round-about B.G route via Nagarcoil – Trivandrum – Quilon and Alleppey. The Maduari-Dindigul-Palani-Pollachi-Kollengode-Thrissur route will still be the shortest route from Madurai to Guruvayur and Ernakulam even after the completion of gauge conversion work in Sengottai-Punalur-Quilon sections. In future, the Thrissur-Kollengode-Pollachi-Podanur B.G.section (134 k.m) will serve as an alternative route to the busy and saturated Thrissur- Ottapalam –Palghat Jn.–Podanur (125 k.m) B.G. trunk route. Many a number of goods and passenger trains can be diverted through this alternative route, though it will be round-about by 9 k.m. Also the Dindigul-Palani-Udumalaipettai-Pollachi B.G line will create a shorter rail route from Chennai (Egmore) to Palani, the temple town having the famous hill temple of Lord Muruga and to Udumalaipettai, the growing industrial town. It will be feasible to introduce direct trains between Chennai (Egmore) and Udumalaipettai (or even Pollachi) via Dindigul and Palani. Taking note of all favourable factors into consideration, the new Railway Minister Ms.Mamta Banerjee should sanction for the Kollengode-Thrissur B.G.line in the new Budget to be submitted in the parliament in July, 2009. The Ministry should simultaneously sanction and release enough funds for the early implementation of both the new line and gauge conversion project in Dindigul –Pollachi- Kollengode- Palakkad /Pollachi-Podanur sections. The Corridor un-opened all these years has to be opened, to facilitate direct and shortest rail link between Central Tamilnadu and Central Kerala. Both Kerala and Tamilnadu will reap benefits from the said rail connections and thus can jointly co-ordinate with the Railway Ministry to get the same. Let us hope that the new MOS for Railways –Mr.E.Ahamed will take an initiative for getting the Kollengode-Thrissur Railway line a reality. M.Ps from Kerala and Tamilnadu should interact with the people of their respective regions and take up the issue with the Railway Ministry.