Southern Railway /On track ,chugging along.

A sum of 541, 344 crore has been set aside in the 2013- 24 Budget for Southern Railway to execute infrastructure projects. Yet, passenger associations point do projects in Tamil Nady that need more funding. Anceng them are Mannargudil – Pattukottai and Pattukattai -Thanjavur lines that have been allocated ₹ 43.50 crore.

Southern Railway officials are delighted at the bountiful allocation the ₹ 11,314 crore in the Budget for 2023-24. Iets ‘pink book’spells out the allocations for laying of new lines, doubling of track, safety measures, improvements to the signal and telecommunication systems and upgrade of passenger amenities at stations.

In was 2022-23, the total allocation ₹ 7,114 Crore. Southern Railway, comprising four divisions in Tamil Nadu and two in Kerala,has been witnessing infrastructure upgrade :redevelopment of important stations, Construction of road over and under Bridges, track improvement to increase the speed of express trains and gauge Conversion .The huge increase in this year’s allocation is a fillip,officials say.

A slew of projects :-

An express train can be run from Bodi to chennai once the yard re-modelling work at Madurai Junction is completed by March.

Southern Railway has announced nine new track projects, costing ₹1,158 crore, as against only ₹59 crore last year;16 track – doubling projects,costing ₹1,564 crore(₹381 Crore in 2022-23): a 230% increase in the outlay for customer amenities _₹1,081 crore as against ₹327 Crore in 2022-23 ,₹563 crore 245 road over bridges (ROBS) and road under bridges(RUBS); and improvements to the safety and punctuallity of train services with the upgrade of the signal and telecommunication network on an outlay of ₹382 crore as against ₹189 crore last year.

R.N. Singh, General Manager, Southern Railway, said at a post- Budget press meeting that ₹6,080 crore had been allotted to the State , comprising the divisions of Chennai,Tiruchi,Madurai and Salem.

The redevelopment of stations in Egmore,Rameswaram, Kanniyakumari, Katpadi and Madurai has begun; track improvement has been completed in the Chennai – Renigunta, Arakkonam- Jolarpettai and Chennai-Gudur sections to speed up Vande Bharat trains. 85% of the track network has been electrified and Southern Railway is planning to cover the rest on an outlay of ₹ 383.92 crore. The eletrification will be taken up on nine routes in the State.

Two lines in Tiruchi division

In Tiruchi Railway Division,new broad gauge lines from Karaikal to peralam through Thirunallar and from Nagapattinam to Thiruthuraipoondi through Thirukuvalai are under way. The centre has allotted ₹ 183.54 crore for the two lines during the 2023-24 fiscal.

The Karaikal Peralam line is a high -priority project because it will reduce the journey time to Karaikal from Mayiladuth- urai for passenger and freight trains, skipping the circuitous route through Tiruvarur, Nagapattinam and Nagore.

The Karaikal Peralam projects is also significant because freight is moved in bulk by rail fromThe Karaikal port to various destinations. Yielding a substantial revenue to Southern Railway, said a senior official. The completion of this project would help to cut the time taken by freight trains going from and to Karaikal through Mayiladuthurai.

Railway officials involved in the Karaikal peralam project said 60 out of the more than 70 minor Bridges had been Constructed. The super structure of a major bridge is being built across the Vanjiaar near Karaikal.

The station buildings are Coming up at Karaikdipathu and Thirunallbar, and the work will be taken up in due course at be Pathakudi and Ambagarathur, A ROB is coming up near Karaikal Officials of Southern Railway Construction organisation are aiming to Complete this project in the 2023 fiscal.

The Nagapattinam- Thiruthuraipoondi line is significant as Thirukuvalai is the birthplace of former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi.pivate land had been acquired for this project. The Construction of 60% of the minor Bridges is over.

Insufficient Funds

How ever, rail-users are disoppainted that insufficient funds are alloted for the Mannargudi – Pattukottai and Pattukottai – Thanjavur broad gauge lines. These projects may further be delayed.” The outlay of ₹ 43.50 crore for the two projects is insufficient .

There were expectations that the allocation for the two projects would be high this time in View of the completion of the Thiruthuraipoondi – Agarthiyampalli gauge conversion project…”!!said V.Viveganantham, secretary, Pattukattai Taluk Railway passengers Welfare Association.

A. Giri, secretory, Thanjavur District Railway Users Association says non-inclusion of the doubling of the mainline section from Thanjavur to Villupuram through Kumbakonam, Mayiladuthurai, Chidambaram and Cuddalore has disappointed travellers because new services could not be introduced to the delta region.

No new survey has been ordered ,either,for new lines in the Tiruchi Division, includding from Thanjavur to Pudukottai and Sirkazhi to Tharangampadi ,a long-pending demand,Mr.Giri said.

Direct service from Theni :-

In Madurai Division, three major projects are about to be completed. They could pave the way for direct services from Theni district to Chennai. The Madurai-Bodinayakanur section was closed for traffic in 2011 for gauge conversion. With its opening, the only metre gauge section in Madurai Division was removed.

The station re-development work has been taken up in Madurai and Rameswaram at a cost of ₹ 347 crore and ₹ 90 crore respectively.Madurai Divisional Railway Manager P. Ananth said the operation of an express train from Bodi to Chennai will begin once the yard re-modelling work at Madurai Junction is completed by March.

The two other important projects in Madurai Division are the construction of the new Pamban sea bridge and the doubling of the Madurai-Thoothukudi section. According to officials, work on the new Pamban bridge, which was started in November 2019, was expected to be completed in two years.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic hampered the work. The project will now be commissioned in July 2023. Nearly 85% of the work has been finished and the work for assembling the first vertical lift of the country will begin very soon. The early completion of the ₹ 535-crore project has been necessitated by the halting of traffic on the old Pamban rail bridge since December 2022 over safety concerns.

Doubling project nearing completion

The long-pending Madurai-Thoothukudi doubling project is nearing completion. The project is expected to be commissioned by October this year. The work sanctioned in 2017 for providing a 160-km second line was expected to be completed by March 2020, but the delay in land acquisition, legal wrangles and COVID-19 lockdowns held project, officials point out. up the

While the three major projects are progressing well, the rail-users are unhappy that the new line from Rameswaram to Dhanushkodi remains a non-starter. Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation in March 2019 for the project aimed at restoring the 17.2-km line destroyed by a cyclone in 1964.

Officials say the project is getting delayed because of issues in the acquisition of land from the Forest Department. Talks are under way with the State government at the highest level.

Coimbatore Junction to be redeveloped

In Salem Division covering Coimbatore, Erode, Namakkal and other important districts, Coimbatore Junction is set to be redeveloped. A senior official said the Railway Land Development Authority (RLDA) has been conducting a techno- economic feasibility study at Coimbatore Junction for six months now; after this, a plan would be prepared.

The station would be upgraded in five years. The other important projects that have brought cheers to the commuters are the Erode-Palani and Morappur-Dharmapuri new lines.

Railway activist Pandiaraja said a survey done in the State recommended 5,000 km of new tracks, but the Budget spelled out no major new project.

His contention is that since Tamil Nadu has been identified as the second-most developed State, based on the passenger traffic compared to the total population, the amount allotted is inadequate.

B. Guganesan, Chief Public Relations Officer of Southern Railway, said new projects are dynamic, with several economic factors involved. The construction organisation of Southern Railway would announce new projects based on the transport situation, the economic development potential and the commuter traffic.

(With inputs from R. Rajaram in Tiruchi; S. Sundar in Madurai; and R. Aishwaryaa in Coimbatore).

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