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East-West metro to roll in five years: Buddha

Calcutta, Feb. 23: The Bengal chief minister kickstarted the East-West Metro and even announced a deadline for completion yesterday.

“We will commission the project by October 31, 2014,” Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said at the foundation stone laying ceremony, sharing the dais with external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee.

The Rs 4,874.58-crore project will have air-conditioned trains run 14.7km, from Howrah Maidan to Salt Lake Sector V. Part of the tracks will run through a tunnel below the Hooghly.

Some officials are sceptical about meeting the deadline as time-bound execution of infrastructure projects is a rarity in Bengal.

“A 3.4km stretch of the existing Metro (Bhowanipore to Esplanade) took 12 years to be ready. The entire 16.4km stretch was commissioned in 23 years,” said a Metro official. “But the technology has since vastly improved and the chief minister’s deadline might just be met.”

After lighting the inaugural lamp, Bhattacharjee read out the names of the 12 stations — Sector V (near Wipro), Karunamoyee, Central Park, City Centre, Bengal Chemicals, Salt Lake Stadium, Phoolbagan, Sealdah, Central, Mahakaran, Howrah and Howrah Maidan. “The minimum fare will be Rs 8. Initially, the trains will run every three minutes. The frequency will be brought down to two-and-a-half later,” the chief minister said. The trains will run from 5am to 12am.

Six stations — from Sector V to Phoolbagan — will be underground and the rest elevated. “The coaches and underground stations will be air-conditioned. As for the other stations, we are yet to take a decision,” said A.K. Chattopadhyay, the chief electrical engineer of the Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation Limited.

In a first for India, the tunnel will pass below a river at a depth of 35 metres, linking Mahakaran and Howrah stations. “This is the first time in our country that a train will pass below a river, and that, too, the mighty Ganges,” said Mukherjee, who is also the chairman of the Mass Rapid Transport System Committee that gave the final go-ahead to the project.

The new Metro will be suicide-proof, claimed engineers. “There will be a screen doors on each platform which will withdraw only after the train comes to a stop and close again before it leaves,” said Chattopadhyay.

He added that there would initially be 16 four-car trains. “But we will have the provision to increase the number of coaches to six.”

Commuters of the East-West Metro and the existing North-South Metro will be able to interchange from one to the other at Central station.

A major part of the cost — Rs 2,253 crore — will come as loan from the Japan International Cooperation Agency. The Centre and the state will raise the rest. A consortium of five firms from across the world will execute the project.

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