Kochi: Entering the final lap of the run-up to the May 31 Thrikkakara assembly bypoll, the Congress has raked up its once proposed suburban rail project as a poll plank. The opposition party, which is trying to retain the Thrikkakara seat left vacant with the death of its senior leader P T Thomas, has kicked off a buzz over the suburban rail project apparently in a bid to counter the ruling CPM's attempts to portray the Congress as an anti-development political formation.
The CPM has been portraying itself as a champion of development throughout the Thrikkakara campaign highlighting its ambitious SilverLine semi high-speed rail project. The Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) has been opposing the project tooth and nail citing the environmental hazards and the economic burden it would cause as well as the suspicious manner in which the project has been designed. The party has also been highlighting the big projects including, Cochin International Airport, Kaloor international stadium and the Kochi Metro, which were realised during the previous UDF regimes to challenge the CPM's campaign against it.
Former Chief Minister and Congress veteran Oommen Chandy on Wednesday tried to amplify his party's development pitch saying the suburban rail project will be implemented if the UDF comes to power again.
Chandy made the claim in a clear bid to send out a message to the voters of Thrikkakara that his party has an alternative to the SilverLine project which the CPM-led Left Democratic Front government has been projecting as an infrastructure for the future.
Calling the suburban rail a project for the common man, Chandy pointed out that the Left government had initially approved it.
The former CM was addressing a press conference at the UDF's Election Committee office in Thrikkakara, He said only 300 acres of land and Rs 10,000 crore were required to implement the suburban rail project launched by the UDF government headed by him.
“The UDF is opposing the K-Rail SilverLine project with a clear alternative. The K-Rail project costs Rs 2 lakh crore while 20,000 families will have to be evicted. It also requires to acquire 1,383 hectares of land.
Suburban Rail is the solution to all the grievances raised against SilverLine which would destroy the environment and economy of Kerala,” he said.
Chandy said during the V S Achuthanandan-led Left government's tenure, a high-speed rail line similar to SilverLine was announced in the 2007-08 budget and the Delhi Metro rail Corporation (DMRC) was appointed as the project consultant.
“They submitted the project report during the UDF government that followed. However, the UDF rejected the proposal citing a huge liability of Rs 1.27 lakh crore and the public outcry against the project. Subsequently, the low-cost and easy-to-implement suburban project was considered.
“A pilot project of suburban rail was to be completed on a 125-km stretch from Thiruvananthapuram to Chengannur at a cost of Rs 1,943 crore. Only 70 acres of land was needed to be acquired for that. Suburban trains run only on existing lines. Once all the approvals are obtained, the project can be implemented in three years. The main tasks are to improve the existing signal system, straighten curves and upgrade the platform,” he said.
“With this the speed of the trains will increase and up to 20 MEMU model trains will be able to run at a speed of 160 kmph at 20 minute intervals. The project was to be completed up to Kannur in stages after the pilot works. The UDF government had registered a company with the Mumbai Rail Vikas Corporation to implement the project,” he said.