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Eye to sky for traffic solution key
- Proposed minibus on elevated tracks to run at 80kph

Getting nowhere on the ground' Go take the aerial route.

Struggling to cope with the traffic chaos on the city streets, the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government is looking to the skies for a solution.

“We are in a fix,” admitted chief secretary Ashok Gupta on Sunday. “There is no way we can go completely underground or stay on the ground, where the scope for innovation with regard to having the ideal mass transit system is nil. We must go for an aerial system.”

This puts the spotlight firmly on a crucial session this week with a group of senior executives from the Copenhagen based-Ruf International Limited, at which the prospect of installing a “fast, affordable and volume-carrying transit system” will be explored.

The proposed rapid urban flexible (RUF) system is eyeing two corridors connecting Tollygunge and Joka, in the south, with the airport.

The Danish team will first meet chief minister Bhattacharjee and then transport minister Subhas Chakraborty and his department officials.

The current exercise reflects chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s initiative involving an intense scrutiny of all the proposals on modernisation of Calcutta’s mass-transit system that have reached the government over the past few months.

Bhattacharjee’s initiative on the RUF system was, apparently, guided by the observations of a committee of experts that went through the clutch of proposals — ranging from monorail and magnetic levitation train to elevated trams, high-speed trams and trolley buses.

A combination of factors, like congested city roads, underground pipelines, high fares, huge investment, uncertain returns on investment and limited beneficiaries is believed to have forced the government to tread carefully and turn an eye to the sky.

The chief minister has made it clear, said officials, that whichever system is adopted, it must run through Calcutta’s congested central business district.

The government will formally seek an expression of interest from different global operators of the RUF system after the May 10 elections, chief secretary Gupta confirmed.

Broadly, the RUF system is all about operating a specially-designed vehicle (like a minibus) on a single track laid on columns (that can serve as a divider) erected in the middle of a road.

The battery/electricity driven-vehicles may be run “singly or in a batch of eight to 10 cars” to carry passengers and cargo at 80 kph. The projected fare is pegged at 75 paise per km.

Government experts and the Danish team are expected to visit some of the city thoroughfares, like CR Avenue, Esplanade, BBD Bag, SP Mukherjee Road and Diamond Harbour Road, which will fall on the route of the proposed RUF system.

An estimated Rs 500 crore must be pumped into this project, to be implemented on a build-operate-transfer (BOT) basis.

Among the positives of the RUF system, its eco-friendliness and its minimal consumption of ground space have found favour with the government.

“We have been looking for something that can be put in place fast, is eco-friendly and does not eat up ground space,” said minister Chakraborty.

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