R Srinivasan

Streetcars of desire

R Srinivasan | Updated on January 23, 2018


Our town planners have unjustly ignored trams

Bollywood superhit Detective Byomkesh Bakshy may have revived nostalgia for trams but the fact remains that they have fallen victim to India’s newfound love affair with metros. Every metro and wannabe metro in India wants metro services, while the last remaining operational tram service in India — in Kolkata — is on its last legs.

Which is why it was thrilling to hear that Delhi, which had an operational tram system till 1963, is planning to revive it, in the crowded Old Delhi area. If it works, it may just inspire urban planners in other Indian cities to look at a relatively low-cost, pollution-free MRTS. Modern light rail systems — as trams are technically classified — are a far cry from the museum pieces trundling around in Kolkata. They are now modern, high-technology and high capacity systems, which can operate at speeds rivalling traditional metros if they enjoy a reserved right of way.

There is something incredibly beguiling about a train moving through the roads, sharing space with other vehicles and pedestrians. Hong Kong, which has a world class metro system, still runs its more than a century-old tramway. It’s half as expensive as the metro to ride and is ideal for downtown Hong Kong’s densely populated retail district, where trams offer much more conveniently spaced options for boarding or alighting. Central and East European cities have discovered that re-engineered tram services offered a much cheaper option to modernise Soviet-era transit systems, while also acting as a tourism magnet.

Most Indian cities are tailor-made for trams. Legacy road networks and exploding vehicle populations means that average traffic speeds during peak hours is already down to around 15 kmph in cities like Delhi, Mumbai or Bengaluru, with average speeds projected to slow to just 5 kmph by 2020 — slower than walking pace. Trams offer the option to significantly enhance commute speeds, while also markedly impacting pollution. It’s time our cities put them back on the drawing board.

Senior Associate Editor

Published on August 05, 2015

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