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Fancy rail terminals and metro stations, but basic inter-modal connectivity takes a backseat in Bengaluru

Costly upgrades of railway stations, fancy greenfield railway terminals, new Metro stations and other mega infrastructure projects are all taken up without aiding seamless multi-modal connectivity and ease of public access to these facilities, writes Rasheed Kappan.

By Rasheed Kappan
New Update

publive-image Bridge inside Sir M Visvesvaraya Terminal in Bengaluru East linking the seven platforms | Photo courtesy: Rasheed Kappan

Imposing in scale and intent, it has been billed as India’s first airport-like railway terminal with the country’s largest centralised air-conditioned concourse. The Sir M Visvesvaraya Terminal in Bengaluru East spans an area of 5,930 sqm with a capacity to hold 50 trains daily. But beyond all that glitter lies a serious lack of planning for inter-modal connectivity and inter-agency coordination to maximise its potential.

By all accounts, the Rs. 314-crore facility is an expensive project, and the concourse and the elevation designed to mimic the façade of the Kempegowda International Airport (KIA) added to the costs. But from a functional perspective, this third railway coaching terminal of Bengaluru City is expected to ease the congestion at the KSR City and Yeshwantpur terminals.

Rail commuters and mobility analysts say they wouldn’t grudge the high costs if the terminal met its original objective. That is still a long way off since new trains are being scheduled to terminate here only in phases. The real problem is seeing the critical inter-modal connectivity and inter-agency coordination as after-thoughts.

publive-image A new Metro Station on the Whitefield stretch under construction | Photo courtesy: Rasheed Kappan

Poor road accessibility

Consider this: Years before the terminal was conceived, it was clear that good road connectivity was critical to ensure that thousands of commuters could seamlessly access the facility from all sides. Yet, a narrow, winding road was all that the railways and the city corporation, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), could show for connectivity as the terminal neared completion.

It took public outcry and frantic lobbying by different stakeholders to reactivate and complete work on a long-pending railway bridge that eventually linked the terminal to the arterial Old Madras Road. The BBMP and the Ministry of Defence had to get into a complicated deal before the road leading to the bridge could pass through the defence land.

But barely seven months after the terminal was operationalised in June 2022, the bridge is already showing signs of strain. The rising volume of traffic could soon turn the narrow bridge into a bottleneck for commuters as the number of terminating trains and passengers increase. Is this the best that the city could offer to boost connectivity for a new terminal built after 130 years, wonder railway experts? The Yeshwanthpur terminal was commissioned in 1892.

publive-image A view of the railway bridge leading to the Terminal, under construction a year ago. The bridge project was delayed for years due to land acquisition issues between the Defence Ministry and the BBMP, the Bengaluru city corporation. | Photo courtesy: Rasheed Kappan

Beyond roads, inter-modal connectivity is also about accessibility between railway stations and Metro stations. On this count, too, the new terminal fares poorly since it is far beyond half a kilometre from the Baiyappanahalli Metro Station. The best fix for this could be a long pedestrian path, cutting across a vast stretch of factory land that lies between the two stations. To date, there has yet to be an official talk about such a walkway.

Maintenance problems

Architects of the terminal’s airport façade had an assumption: Passengers would treat the terminal exactly the way air passengers treat the city airport. But within six months of the terminal’s opening, its broken sliding doors, walls with betel juice stains and poor upkeep told a different story. South Western Railway (SWR) officials attribute this to a general practice where some passengers arrive almost a day before the departure of their trains, turning the AC terminal their temporary base.

To counter this, SWR has proposed to shift its ticket counters outside the concourse and not let passengers inside the terminal four hours before departure. This rule would be applicable in the morning hours. However, once the railways introduce trains far beyond the 30 pairs it currently operates, these challenges could get worse.

publive-image Inside the fully air-conditioned railway concourse of the Sir MV Terminal, said to be the largest of its kind in the country. | Photo courtesy: Rasheed Kappan

Connectivity, an afterthought

The lack of inter-modal connectivity has plagued several other infrastructure projects in the city and outside for decades. Nothing could be more illustrative than the immense struggle passengers undergo as they climb up and down multiple stairs with heavy luggage to cross the Yeshwanthpur Metro and Railway Stations barely a few hundred metres apart. Both SWR and the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) had wasted years before a plan to connect the two stations by a Foot Overbridge was finalised in 2021. The FOB is yet to be completed.

Along the arterial Tumakuru Road, with a very high traffic density, runs the green Metro line. But four Metro Stations on this stretch have no skywalk to help commuters cross the busy highway. They are forced to get out of the Station, walk all the way to the nearest traffic intersection and cross the road. Often, passengers in a hurry jaywalk, risking lives. Seamless access to the Stations was not even part of the design, note mobility experts.

Most Namma Metro stations in the first phase had no proper bus bays for commuters to switch from one mode to another. Neither was the parking of personal vehicles considered a necessity to help last-mile connectivity. To cut costs, these critical spaces have either shrunk or completely done away with in the stations for the second and third phases.

Mobility activist Rajkumar Dugar says both the BMRCL and railways, while planning and building mega infrastructure projects, cannot escape the responsibility of ensuring these linkages. “We don’t have integration between railway and Metro stations even for the upcoming projects. Rail passengers alighting at the Bangalore Cantonment Railway Station have to walk over half a kilometre to get to the Metro station.”

Poor planning

Citizens, he says, have suffered greatly due to the poor planning and execution by the infrastructure biggies. “Their suffering is permanent. Since these are very expensive projects, people must live with them forever. The larger interests of the city are not considered. There is no coordination between agencies, and egos often clash within departments,” Rajkumar notes.

But the recently passed Bangalore Metropolitan Land Transport Authority (BMLTA) could change the way the various mobility departments and agencies work and interact with one another, points out Satya Arikutharam, an independent urban mobility expert. “The Authority is now legally empowered to ensure multi-modality right from the infrastructure planning stage itself. That is a big turnaround,” he points out.

Coupled with the Transit Oriented Development (TOD) policy centred around access to mass transit options, the new Authority could impose proper standards of connectivity for the first and last mile now, explains Satya.

publive-image Narrow Railway Bridge to the Sir M Visvesvaraya Terminal, now completed. During peak hours, it gets highly congested. | Photo courtesy: Rasheed Kappan

Transit Oriented Development

This, he says, can benefit all mobility projects in the future. “BMRCL is already preparing for six TOD routes through the Asian Development Bank (ADB). So the expectation of ADB is that they will replicate this for other stations also. From the planning stage itself, questions will be on how buses are integrated, where passengers will get the first mile and last mile infrastructure especially related to walking, who is going to fund it and should that be built into the project cost right from the outset itself."

Although these concerns were acknowledged for existing projects, it was not required under the law to follow them. “The government would interpret guidelines in the way they want. But now, with the new law, people can actually question BMLTA. For instance, they can cite the Rs 40,000 crore spent on the Metro and question why they still can’t get last-mile connectivity. The agencies can no longer pass the buck and play ping-pong because the BMLTA now requires both BMRCL and BMTC to sit together and chart out an integrated plan,” Satya points out.


Rasheed Kappan is a senior journalist based in Bengaluru with nearly three decades of experience. In the past, he has worked in the Deccan Herald, The Hindu and The Times of India, covering issues related to urban mobility, sustainibility, environment and the interface between policy, planning and activation on the ground. A graphic cartoonist, he is the founder of Kappansky and explores the linkages of art, media and innovation through multiple creative platforms.