Sunday, July 5, 2015

Chennai Metro - New boy in town

Chennai transportation landscape has been a fine example of mix of road and rail transport moving masses in an economical way.  City is blessed with a suburban rail system dating back to the 1920’s and over the period saw many new modes of transport like MRTS getting added and few like trams giving away.  City expanding drastically, coupled with rapid economic activity, it was time for a rapid people mover system which inherited the best of world’s technology.

CMRL Metro Car

Blue eyed boy

21st Century Metro rail wave having made its presence felt in the Metros of Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai, Jaipur finally decided to hit the shores of Namma Chennai.  CMRL (Chennai Metro Rail Limited) the SPV formed for this purpose started the work in the year 2009 and project saw light with the commercial operations starting on 29th June 2015.  This day will be a red letter day in the history or Chennai transportation when a new mode of transport is taking shape almost after a Century.  (I am discounting MRTS here, it being an ugly contraption of SR’s failed attempt on Mass transit system).

Chennai - here we come!!

Image Courtesy : CMRL website

Chennai Metro Phase-1 which comprises of two corridors to a length of 45kms has a unique proposition of 55% of its length being underground.  The Alandur – Koyembedu stretch running to a length of 10kms which has been opened to public and is part of the green line which when fully opened will run from St. Thomas Mount to Chennai Central.  The blue line which crisscrosses it, runs from Washermanpet to Chennai Airport.  The newly opened corridor connects CMBT (Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminus) and will prove a boon to the wary traveler once the whole network is in place.

Chennai Metro Alandur Station

MTC bus stop  abutting the Alandur Station

I chose to visit the metro on next day of inauguration to avoid milling crowds and cover the Alandur – Koyembedu stretch.  Starting point was the Alandur station which is located on the GST road just next to Kathipara Clove leaf floyover.

Ticket counter

Fare Chart
Chutties rule
Chennai Metro Travel Card
Chennai Metro token
Travel card usage and balance detail screen at stations
Display at ticket counter

Ticket Vending Machine - can dish out tokens as well as recharge cards
Train Schedule

Arriving at Alandur station just an hour into its operation we were greeted with very lean crowd as desired.  Counter staff just a day old were getting a hang of things meddling with the new gizmos.  Getting hold of the smart cards, we hit the concourse.  CMRL offers one time use tokens and smart cards for the pax and smart cards offer a 10% discount on the journeys.  Card recharge machines are placed at every station with ATM’s machines in their vicinity. 

Station and Infra

 CMRL has adopted a bare bones approach in designing the stations and structures don’t have a wow factor attached to them.  Stations are more functional in nature and have provision for future commercial exploitation.  Green line which runs through the GST and IRR has all its stations on arterial roads and within reach.  

Baggage and pax screening by security personnel

Access control turnstile - Travel card and tokens work here
Four Platform details at Alandur Station
Platform and line details

Lifts at Stations

Alandur is a huge two tier station and monster escalators lift you up to the third level where plies the green line.  Entry to the platform area is restricted through access control turnstile which allow only pax with tokens or valid travel cards.  Baggage and pax screening is done before letting in the pax on to platforms.   Escalators are not provided for Pax getting down from stations (i.e. to Ground level) and two level climb down would be a task and not sure if lifts can handle huge crowd.

Platform and signages

Typical Chennai Metro Plaform 

CMRL plaforms have continued the legacy of earlier metro systems in India with simple structure occupying minimal space which is a permium in Metro cities.  Platform area is filled with user information boards and public address system dish out the needded detail on train schedules.  Trilingual boards (English, Hindi and Tamil) are present only announcing the station name, otherwise bilingual (English and Tamil) appraoch is followed for all other information boards.

Trilingual station name board at CMRL

Maze of information boards
Green Line - Platform Number - 1 reads the board

Next train to Alandur will arrive in 3 mins
Coach position for the physically challenged
Keep off the yellow lines on the station platform

Markings for queue formation at door position
ATM's at Platform

Security peronsal have been deployed to guide pax on the platform and ensure them to fall behind the yellow line.  Once the whole network comes into place and huge crowds thronging the metro during peak hours, travellers have to get used to the queining system at the plaforms against the door markings on the plaform floor.  Facility and rules being new, common Indian will take time to tame the kid in him.  Platform area also has private bank ATM’s and commercial exploitation of the available infra will be a game changer.

Display screen for train opertaor

Display screens are positioned at the starting of each of the platform.  These screens dish out visuals from the cameras positioned at various locations in the platform till its end.  This helps the pilot to check out for passenger boarding status before starting from the station.

Rolling Stock

With the announcement came the shining blue Alstom rake which will take us on the joyride to Koyembedu.  Overhead traction is adopted by CMRL and rakes run on the standard gauge.  Here, Delhi metro need to be commended, who could prove the point and break the shackles of BG and take the country towards standard gauge based rapid system.  The Alstom rakes are built at the Tada, AP and missed the "Made in Chennai" tag by meager 50kms.

4 car rake
Digi destination boards in the front
2014 built Alstom Metro Car

4 car rakes are currently doing duty and stations are capable of handling 6 car rakes in future.    

Inside of a normal class coach

Seat in the Normal Class
Hat rack - luggage storage space inside the coach

Special Class

Inside of a Special Class

Approaching station information inside the coaches

Station progress information inside the coach

Ladies have a dedicated space in the rake as well and remaining rake forms the normal class.  The concept of Special Class is not a great idea considering its non-existence on other Indian Metro systems.  Very bad idea of providing special class as now ticket checkers would be required to monitor users of this new class.   Another notable first in CMRL is the presence of luggage racks.  Otherwise, the in-metro car announcements and digital scroll boards do the job of informing the pax of upcoming stations do job well.  

Space provision for physically challenged

Trains breezed past five stations and dropped us at Koyembedu in 17 mins flat, not bad.  Koyembedu also houses the CMRL administrative office and a huge yard.

CMRL administrative HQ at Koyembedu

CMRL yard at Koyembedu

Just into the second day of operation, decent office going crowds was a welcome sight.  Few points that could not miss sight were the pending works being carried out at stations which are nearing completion.  MTC has no wonder turned the other way by not operating any feeder buses to Metro stations.  Stations like Alandur which has in its backyard thickly populated areas will benefit much with MTC “Small buses” acting as feeder services.
With the launch of Metro, high time Chennai babus decide to have a unified transportation authority to help people travel seamless across modes.

In all though a small 10km beginning, Chennai Metro for sure is going to herald a new travelling experience which will be fast, safe and efficient and will help cover the city with ease.

Yours truly

Few videos taken during the trip: