First up, the Times of India has a report on the Lajpat Nagar station of the Delhi Metro facing problems. While the station itself is being built, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi is refusing to give the Delhi Metro Railway Corporation land for entry and exit points. If this situation is not resolved, then come June 2010, the Metro trains will stop at Lajpat Nagar, but passengers will have no way to actually get into or out of the station.
In 2008 in Preview, I had written about the Bangalore airport being completed without a road to the actual city, and how passengers to Bangalore would have to take onward flights to Mangalore and then a Volvo to Bangalore from there. Now it looks like Metro passengers to Lajpat Nagar will have to go to Moolchand and take an auto from there.
Actually, metro stations that get built but where the trains that don’t stop exist/ existed in real life. Recently, there was Buangkok on the North-East line of the Singapore MRTS. The station was built, but not used for two years. Then, a chap had the bright idea of putting up cutouts of white elephants all over it. For his pains, he got hauled up by the police, shaken down and eventually let off with a stern warning. Singapore, eh?
The story doesn’t end there. The whole controversy meant that the station was finally opened to the public, and this was accompanied by a huge opening ceremony and party. Enterprising schoolgirls who were involved in social work decided to raise funds over there by selling ‘Save the White Elephant’ tshirts. They too were given a warning by the police:
On Friday, Jan 13, while preparations went into overdrive for the carnival to celebrate the opening of the $80-million station on Sunday, drama knocked on its doors yet again. This time, it was over some “Save the White Elephants” T-shirts that former Raffles Girls’ School (RGS) students were planning to sell at the carnival.
That day, the students and Punggol South organisers received a reminder from the police that they needed a fund-raising permit before they could sell the T-shirts to the public, in line with existing regulations. The 27 students were also told that they might break the law if the T-shirts were worn “en masse”.
Lawbreaking by t-shirt. Awesome.
Now, moving on to less bizarre matters, Governing magazine has a piece on proactive infrastructure planning (via). It makes the valid point that most transportation infrastructure planning is reactive, and consists of increasing capacity wherever there’s congestion. However, if you create capacity where none exists, the benefits to the places on that new route can lead to an economic boom there and change transportation patterns so that the old route gets decongested – everyone is going to the new places instead. The article uses the high-speed train line between Madrid and Sevilla as an example.
It’s an intuitively sensible concept, but the example given also made my inner skeptic sniff and ask the following questions:
- The Spanish economy has been having a general construction fueled boom for many years, right? So was the boom in Sevilla and Andalucia notably more than the rest of the country?
- What’s the boom in the region and city been? High-speed rail usually serves only commuters – and so the service industry. A manufacturing boom needs decongestion and faster speeds on cargo lines as well – did those get built or decongested too?
Also, the article doesn’t really give any pointers about which underserved route you should create your highway or rail line on. I mean, why Sevilla instead of say Granada or Valencia or Bilbao?
In fact (and this is where I come into disagreement with Atanu Dey), this is where small airports and low cost airlines score over high-speed rail – you don’t have to take expensive bets building an entire high-speed line only to find it doesn’t get utilised – just build a small airstrip and terminal, and let low cost carriers serve them. This was pretty much Captain Gopinath’s dream with Air Deccan, but unfortunately it didn’t work out for him personally. But he did use to make the point that the airstrips are already there – they just need to be served. And so the risk is entirely on the private parties who operate the routes – not on the government or taxpayers who have to build the rail lines.
Actually, making sure your new route is utilised isn’t as hit or miss as the last paragraph makes it sound. It’s been done successfully by the new ports in Gujewland – Pipavav, Mundra Adani, and Palanpur through private-public partnerships.
What has happened here is that the port operator has persuaded heavy industries to build new plants next to their ports and take advantage of dedicated terminals for iron ore or gas or finished products (don’t recall the details, sorry, and don’t have the paper this was described in on me right now). Then, the port operator, the industrial user of the port, and the Indian Railways set up a joint venture which is dedicated to linking the port to the existing railway network.
So merely building a route is not enough. You also need to ensure somehow that there are enough users for it. That is tangentially alluded to in the article when it talks about the Meteor line and the National Library in Paris, but never addressed explicitly. I know, the article probably had a word limit constraint, it only wanted to introduce the what instead of writing a thesis about the how, but I wish someone would address the how. Oh well.