From Humble Beginnings to Bustling Network: The Story of the Kolkata Metro

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Introduction 

Situated on the east bank of the Hooghly River, sprawling across 206.08 square kilometers, Kolkata rules as the crown jewel of West Bengal. This bustling metropolis, exceeding 15 million residents, pulsates with a vibrant informal sector employing over 40% of its workforce. A melting pot of diverse backgrounds and occupations, Kolkata, according to the 2011 census, embraces a population of 4,486,679. 

Occupying a pivotal position, Kolkata acts as a magnet, attracting a multitude from the northeast and surrounding regions. In the grand canvas of Indian geography, it occupies a place of prominence, being one of the most developed urban centers amongst the seven sister states, Sikkim, and Bihar. Kolkata carries the torch of art and literature, upholding Bengal’s legacy as the land of enlightenment. 

The scenario of urban mobility paints a picture of burgeoning growth. Vehicle registration has witnessed a staggering 44% increase over the past seven years. Delving into Kolkata’s historical accounts, we find it was the sole city graced with a tram service, operated by the Calcutta Tramways Company. As of 2023, six tram routes diligently serve the city. A robust bus system, a harmonious blend of government and private ownership, keeps Kolkata on the move. Five long-distance railway stations, alongside the metro system – the first of its kind in India – further bolster connectivity.

In conclusion, Kolkata’s urban mobility landscape presents a fascinating account woven with threads of growth and facilitation. Buses, trams, personal vehicles, commuter rails, and the metro – all these elements work in concert to channel the city’s aspirations towards a thriving future. This intricate network strives to create a perpetually evolving urban haven, a livable space for its residents and those drawn to its magnetic charm.

Now, we delve deeper, embarking on a voyage to explore the intricacies of the metro system’s various constituents and extensions. From lines to locations, sustainability to attractiveness, we shall gain a comprehensive understanding of this vital rail-based rapid transit system that keeps the heart of Kolkata beating.

Let’s delve deeper into it. 

Kolkata Metro 

Weaving its way through the vibrant city of Kolkata, the Kolkata Metro is a speedy transit system that keeps the city moving.  Unveiled in 1984, it holds the distinction of being the first metro to zip around India, and remains one of the busiest with over 700,000 daily riders! Owned and operated by a tag team of Metro Railway, Kolkata and Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation, it’s the only metro system in the country to run under the control of Indian Railways.

The Kolkata Metro story began in 1972, with work starting on Line 1. It wasn’t all completed at once though. In October 1984, the first little piece, a 3.4 kilometer stretch between Esplanade and Netaji Bhavan stations, opened its doors. Over the next ten years, they kept building, adding more sections until Line 1 reached a cool 16.45 kilometers long by 1995.

Early Dreams 

The seeds for the Kolkata Metro were sown much earlier than its groundbreaking.  Intriguingly, the concept can be traced back to 1919 when a committee, set up by W. E. Crum during the Imperial Legislative Council session at Shimla, proposed a metro line for Calcutta (now Kolkata). This visionary plan aimed to connect Bagmari in the east to Benaras Road, Salkia, in Howrah on the west, with a daring passage – a tunnel beneath the Hooghly River!  However, the estimated cost of ₹36.4 crore in 1919 proved to be a significant hurdle.

Just two years later, in 1921, renowned engineer Harley Dalrymple-Hay, known for his work on London’s underground railways, proposed a similar east-west metro connection for Kolkata, christened the “East-West Tube Railway.”  Unfortunately, this proposal too couldn’t garner the necessary funding and remained unrealized in 1923.

These early proposals, though unfulfilled, showcase the foresight and planning that went into envisioning Kolkata’s future public transport needs. They paved the way for the collaborative efforts that eventually brought the metro to life decades later.

Early Collaboration and Planning

The inception of the Kolkata Metro can be traced back to the visionary efforts of then Chief Minister of West Bengal, Bidhan Chandra Roy, who reconceived the idea of an underground railway for Kolkata as early as 1949. However, concrete progress eluded the project until the early 1970s.

In 1969, recognizing the pressing need for an efficient mass transit system in Kolkata, the Metropolitan Transport Project (MTP) was established. This marked a significant step towards addressing the city’s burgeoning traffic woes. Collaborating with foreign expertise, the MTP sought solutions to Kolkata’s transportation challenges.

A team of French experts conducted an initial survey, but tangible outcomes were elusive. It wasn’t until the MTP engaged Soviet specialists from Lenmetroproekt and East German engineers that substantive progress was made. In 1971, a comprehensive master plan was devised, outlining the construction of five rapid-transit (metro) lines spanning a total length of 97.5 km (60.6 mi).

From this plan, three priority lines emerged:

1. Dum Dum – Tollygunge (Line 1, presently operating from Dakshineswar to New Garia)
2. Bidhannagar – Ramrajatala (Line 2, presently truncated until Howrah Maidan)
3. Dakshineswar – Thakurpukur (Divided into Line 1; Noapara to Dakshineswar and Line 3; Joka to Esplanade)

Given the pressing demand and the crucial north–south corridor’s significance, the Dum Dum to Tollygunge stretch, covering 16.45 km (10.22 mi), was accorded the highest priority. On 1st June 1972, construction work for this pivotal segment was officially sanctioned, heralding the beginning of Kolkata’s journey towards establishing its iconic metro system.

Old line: 

Blue Line (Line-1): Dakshineswar to New Garia (Kavi Subhash)

  • Length: 32.25 km
  • Type: At-Grade, Elevated & Underground
  • Depot: Noapara and New Garia
  • Number of Stations: 26
  • Station Names: Dakshineswar, Baranagar, Noapara, Dum Dum, Belgachhia, Shyambazar, Shobabazar, Shobhabazar Sutanuti, Girish Park, MG Road, Central, Chandni Chowk, Esplanade, Park Street, Maidan, Rabindra Sadan, Netaji Bhavan, Jatin Das Park, Kalighat, Rabindra Sarobar, Mahanayak Uttam Kumar, Netaji, Masteda Surya Sen, Gitanjali, Kavi Nazrul, Shahid Khudiram, Kavi Subhash (New Garia)
The Kolkata Metro, India’s pioneer underground railway, commenced its operations in October 1984, marking a significant milestone in the country’s transportation history. By February 1995, the entire initially planned stretch was completed and operational, providing much-needed relief to Kolkata’s commuters.

Subsequent Extensions:

01. Southward Extension
a. Mahanayak Uttam Kumar to Kavi Nazrul in 2009
b. Kavi Nazrul to Kavi Subhash in 2010

02. Northward Extension
a. Dum Dum to Noapara in March 2013
b. Noapara to Dakshineswar in February 2021
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Kolkata Metro

New Millenium, New Lines 

Operational Lines
The Kolkata Metro currently operates several lines, serving as a vital lifeline for commuters across the city. These lines form the backbone of Kolkata’s public transportation network, providing efficient and reliable travel options for residents and visitors alike.

  1. Green Line (Line-2): Sector V to Sealdah and Howrah Maidan to Esplanade
  • Length: 13 km
  • Type: Elevated (5.3 km) & Underground (7.7 km)
  • Depot: Central Park in Bidhannagar (Salt Lake)
  • Number of Stations: 12
  • Station Names: Howrah Maidan, Howrah, Mahakaran, Esplanade, Sealdah, Phoolbagan, Salt Lake Stadium, Bengal Chemical, City Centre, Central Park, Karunamoyee, Salt Lake Sector V
The Kolkata Metro boasts a unique distinction in India as it traverses under the Hooghly River between Mahakaran and Howrah Station, making it the largest and the sole underwater metro in the country. This engineering feat adds to the metro’s allure, showcasing its innovation and adaptability.

More recently, on 6th March 2024, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Esplanade – Howrah Maidan section, further enhancing the metro’s connectivity. With this inauguration, only a 2.9 km stretch remains between the two functional stations, signaling the imminent completion of this vital link in Kolkata’s metro network.

Under-construction Part 

A. Green Line (Line-2) – Esplanade – Sealdah (tunnels only)

Length: 2 km

Type: Underground

Number of Stations: 0

Station Names: N/A

On-Hold & Proposed 

B. Green Line (Line-2) – Howrah Maidan to Satrangachi Bus Terminal

Length: 10 km

Type: Elevated

Status: Proposed

C. Green Line (Line-2) – Sector V to Teghoria

Length: 5.7 km

Type: Elevated

Number of Stations: 5

Station Names: Kestopur, Dum Dum Park, Baguiati, Raghunathpur and Teghoria (Line-6 interchange)

Status: Proposed

  1. Purple Line (Line-3): Joka to Majerhat
  • Length: 7.75 km
  • Type: Elevated
  • Depot: Joka
  • Number of Stations: 7
  • Station Names: Joka, Thakurpukur, Sakherbazar, Behala Chowrasta, Behala Bazar, Taratala, and Majerhat
The metro line is divided into three phases:

1. Joka to Majerhat (Phase 1)
2. Majerhat to Esplanade (Phase 2)
3. Joka to Diamond Park (Phase 3)
As of the latest update, Prime Minister Narendra Modi remotely inaugurated the Taratala – Majerhat section on 6th March 2024,, marking the completion of the 7.75 km Phase 1 stretch. This significant milestone signifies progress in enhancing Kolkata’s metro network for improved connectivity and convenience.

Under-construction Part 

A. Purple Line (Line-3) – Majerhat to Esplanade

Length: 7.55 km

Type: Elevated (2.5 km) & Underground (5.05 km)

Number of Stations: 5

Station Names: Mominpur, Kidderpore, Victoria Memorial, Park Street and Esplanade

  1. Orange Line (Line-6): Kavi Subhash (New Garia) to Hemanta Mukherjee (Ruby Hospital)
  • Length: 5.68 km
  • Type: Elevated
  • Depot: New Garia
  • Number of Stations: 5
  • Station Names: Kavi Subhash, Satyajit Ray, Jyotirindra Nath Nandy, Kavi Sukanta, and Hemanta Mukherjee
As of the latest update, the Prime Minister of India inaugurated the Kavi Subhash-Hemanta Mukhopadhyay section on 6th March 2024 marking the completion of the 5.4 km Phase 1 stretch.

Under-construction 

A. Orange Line (Line-6) – Hemanta Mukherjee (Ruby Hospital) to NSCBI Airport (Biman Bandar)

Length: 24.19 km

Type: At-grade, elevated & underground

Depot: New Town, New Garia

Number of Stations: 19

Station Names: VIP Bazar, Ritwik Ghatak, Barun Sengupta, Beliaghata, Gour Kishore Ghosh, NICCO Park, Saltlake Sector V, Technopolis, Nazrul Tirtha (formerly Bidhan Nagar), Swapno Bhor (formerly Sub CBD-1), Biswa Bangla Convention Centre (formerly CBD-1), Kala Kshetra, Mother’s Wax Museum (formerly New Town), Eco Park (formerly Convention Center), Siksha Tirtha (formerly Sub CBD-2), City Centre II (formerly Titumir), Chinar Park (formerly Rabindra Tirtha), VIP Road/Teghoria (Haldiram), Biman Bandar (Airport)

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Kolkata Metro

Future of Kolkata Metro 

  1. Yellow Line (Line-4) – Noapara to NSCBI Airport

Length: 6.87 km

Type: At-grade, elevated & underground

Number of Stations: 4

Station Names: Noapara, Dum Dum Cantt., Jessore Road, Biman Bandar

  1. Yellow Line (Line-4) – NSCBI Airport (Biman Bandar) to Barasat

Length: 11.26 km

Type: Underground and Elevated

Number of Stations: 6

Station Names: Birati, Michael Nagar, New Barrackpore, Madhyamgram, Hridaypur and Barasat

A 3.6 km underground section with 3 stations from NSCBI to New Barrackpore has been fast-tracked. Geotechnical & Design bids were invited in mid-January 2020.
  1. Pink Line (Line-5) – Baranagar to Barrackpore

Length: 12.50 km

Type: At-grade & elevated

Number of Stations: 11

Station Names: Baranagar, Kamarhati, Agarpara, Panihati, Sodepur, Subhash Nagar, Khardaha, Tata Gate, Titagarh, Talpukur, Barrackpore

This line is on-hold. Its route was proposed to follow Barrackpore Trunk Road, but may follow Kalyani Expressway instead. When operational, it might function as an extension/spur of Line 1.

Ridership 

The Kolkata Metro stands as the second busiest metro network in India, with each train accommodating 2,465 passengers, surpassing Delhi’s figures. Serving approximately 700,000 commuters daily, its ridership has steadily increased since its inception in 1984. Notably, the completion of the Dum Dum to Mahanayak Uttam Kumar corridor in 1995 marked a significant surge in ridership. Offering affordable fares and swift, convenient travel options, the metro system has garnered immense popularity. During the 2019 Durga Puja festivities, a record-breaking 922,000 passengers utilized the metro. Furthermore, the Green Line witnesses a daily influx of around 40,000 commuters, with the Sealdah extension enhancing accessibility since its inauguration on July 14, 2022. The Purple Line sees around 2,000 people daily, being operational from January 2, 2023.

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Ridership data.

Challenges faced by Kolkata Metro 

1. Ownership and Decision-making: Unlike the autonomous structure of Delhi Metro, Kolkata Metro is owned and operated by Indian Railways. This centralized control often leads to delays and limitations in decision-making, as every aspect, from funding to route realignment, relies solely on Indian Railways.

2. Construction Challenges: In densely populated areas, the absence of free spaces for elevated tracks necessitates the construction of underground systems. However, the construction of underground metro tunnels, as seen in the Bowbazar area, has resulted in structural damages to nearby homes, leading to evacuation and significant project delays.

3. Technical Limitations: Kolkata Metro’s construction in the 1970s introduced technical limitations, such as tunnel dimensions and reliance on Indian Railways infrastructure. The use of Indian meter gauge shells mounted on broad gauge bogies for rolling stock necessitates custom-built rakes, resulting in additional costs and limited options for manufacturers. Additionally, the use of Indian Railways signaling instead of European signaling has contributed to operational snags, delays, and safety concerns.

Kolkata Metro Shaping Urban Mobility 

  • A Historic Start: The Kolkata Metro holds the distinction of being India’s first underground railway system, operational since 1984.
  • Continuous Expansion: The metro network has grown steadily, with new lines and extensions constantly under construction or inaugurated, like the recent additions to the Green and Orange Lines in March 2024.
  • Undeterred by Challenges: Overcoming hurdles like complex ownership structures, dense urban construction zones, and technical limitations, the Kolkata Metro has persevered in serving the city.
  • Ridership on the Rise: The metro enjoys immense popularity, boasting over 700,000 daily riders and witnessing record ridership during festivals.
  • Shaping the Future: Upcoming extensions promise to enhance connectivity, reduce traffic congestion, and integrate with other transport systems, offering a sustainable and efficient commuting experience for Kolkata’s residents.

Benefits to Stakeholders 

Government:

  • Faster Expansion and Infrastructure Development: Private sector involvement can inject much-needed capital, accelerating the expansion of the Kolkata Metro network. This facilitates efficient public transport, reduces traffic congestion, and promotes economic activity within the city. The government can leverage private expertise in areas like tunnel boring and construction management, potentially leading to cost-effective project execution.
  • Reduced Financial Burden: PPP models can ease the financial burden on the government, allowing them to focus resources on other critical infrastructure projects and social welfare initiatives.
  • Improved Operational Efficiency: Private firms often bring innovative operational practices and expertise in maintenance, potentially leading to a more efficient and reliable metro system. This translates to reduced operational costs for the government and a more attractive public transport option for commuters.
  • Job Creation and Economic Growth: Metro expansion creates job opportunities in construction, operation, and maintenance. By prioritizing local hiring within PPP agreements, the government can boost the local economy and create sustainable employment opportunities for Kolkata’s workforce.

Private Sector:

  • Profitable Investment Opportunities: PPPs offer private companies a chance to participate in a high-growth infrastructure project with a guaranteed return on investment over a specified period.
  • Technological Innovation: Private firms can introduce advanced technologies and construction methods, showcasing their capabilities and potentially gaining a competitive edge in the infrastructure development sector.
  • Long-Term Partnerships: Successful PPPs can pave the way for long-term partnerships between the government and private entities, fostering collaboration on future infrastructure projects in Kolkata and beyond.
  • Brand Reputation and Recognition: Participation in a high-profile project like the Kolkata Metro expansion can enhance a private company’s reputation for quality, expertise, and social responsibility, attracting future business opportunities.

However, it’s crucial to establish a framework that ensures a fair distribution of benefits and mitigates potential risks for both parties. Open communication, transparent bidding processes, and clearly defined contracts are essential for a successful PPP venture.

Kolkata Metro: The Way Ahead 

  • PPP Models: Exploring various PPP models like Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) or revenue sharing could attract private investment while ensuring timely project completion and a return on investment for the private partner. Public authorities would retain control over fares and safety standards.
  • Focus on Efficiency: Private sector participation can introduce innovative construction techniques and project management methods, potentially leading to faster completion times and cost optimization. This could expedite the construction of priority stretches and connect underserved areas.
  • Safeguarding Public Interest: A robust regulatory framework established before finalizing PPP agreements would be crucial. This framework would clearly define:
    • Fare structures to ensure affordability and prevent excessive profiteering.
    • Safety standards to be maintained by the private partner throughout the project lifecycle.
    • Service level agreements (SLAs) outlining service quality benchmarks and penalties for non-compliance.
    • Transparency clauses mandating regular audits and public disclosure of project finances.
  • Independent Oversight: Establishing an independent oversight body with public representation would ensure fair implementation of PPP agreements. This body would monitor project progress, adherence to safety regulations, and the quality of services provided.

By carefully considering these detailed aspects, Kolkata can leverage the benefits of private participation while safeguarding public interests and ensuring the metro system remains a sustainable and accessible public transport solution for its citizens.

KOLKATA 05
Kolkata Metro

Conclusion 

The Kolkata Metro’s story is one of unwavering resolve and continuous adaptation. From its humble beginnings as India’s first underground railway to its present stature as a vital lifeline for millions of commuters, the metro has consistently strived to meet the growing demands of Kolkata’s populace. Despite facing challenges like complex ownership structures, intricate construction in dense areas, and technical limitations, Kolkata Metro has emerged as a testament to the city’s indomitable spirit.

As Kolkata marches forward, the Kolkata Metro’s upcoming extensions promise to play a transformative role. By bridging geographical gaps, reducing traffic congestion, and integrating seamlessly with other modes of transportation, the metro network is poised to shape a more sustainable and efficient urban mobility landscape. The careful consideration of public-private partnerships, with a focus on transparency, accountability, and equitable distribution of benefits, can unlock the full potential of this collaboration. By embracing innovation, fostering community engagement, and prioritizing safety, the Kolkata Metro can ensure a brighter future for Kolkata’s commuters and a more vibrant, connected city for all.


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Kolkata metro route.

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