The importance of LRT | Daily News


The importance of LRT

Sri Lanka is a net importer of fuel, to the tune of US$ 6 billion (approx) every year. We must thus explore all avenues that can save fuel. If a passenger car can haul five people, a bus can transport at least 40 and a train can take around 1,000. One can see the impact of public transport from this example alone.

If Sri Lanka had a world-class, reliable, comfortable and punctual integrated public transport system, many people would opt to keep their cars at home. Indeed, not having a world-class public transport system has cost us dearly. This will be even more crucial in the future - by 2035, there would be 30,000 passengers per hour per direction in some transport corridors in the Colombo Metropolitan Region (CMR). Planners have forecast that by 2035 the number of passengers in the main CMR transport corridors would rise from 1.9 million to 4.5 million.

The first thing that comes to mind when the term public transport is mentioned is a Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system, which mostly runs underground. However, some cities may not need such a complicated system, which is a huge investment. A Light Rail Transit (LRT) system does the same thing, at a lesser cost. Many LRT systems are operational around the world.

There is little or no tunneling involved (the most expensive part of the construction) since a LRT system often runs on elevated pillars. It is also electrified, emitting no noise or noxious gases. After careful consideration of the costs and other factors, authorities have settled for LRT systems for major urban centres in Sri Lanka, starting from Colombo.

The good news is that construction work on the proposed LRT would begin at the end of next year, according to the Megapolis and Western Development Ministry. Seven tracks had been identified under the proposal. The first line (21 Km) is likely to be constructed from SLIIT Malabe to Colombo (World Trade Centre with a possible extension to Port City). Another line with a total distance of 33 Km would be constructed from Ragama to Kirulapone via Kadawatha, Fort and Bambalapitiya. Another 28 Km long line would be constructed from Kelaniya to Moratuwa via Dematagoda, Borella, Narahenpita and Nugegoda and a 22 Km long line would be constructed from Hunupitiya Junction to Kottawa via Koswatta. There will be several interchanges where commuters will be able to hop on connecting lines to their final destinations.

LRT cars are generally much smaller than a MRT train, but a single LRT train (generally two-three compartments) will be able to take around 300 passengers. With trains coming every four minutes at each station along the proposed LRT routes, thousands of commuters will be able to travel to Colombo and suburbs in under 40 minutes. The convenience, comfort, punctuality and speed of the LRT will no doubt convince many motorists to keep their cars at home for the work run and use them only on weekends and holidays. If at least 2,000 cars stay off the road during the morning and evening rush hours, the fuel savings will be very significant.

There are growing calls by transport experts to pay more attention developing the entire railway sector, which has been seemingly put on the backburner as roads get all the fanfare. After all, rail development is much cheaper than road construction. Railways already have additional lands that can be used for adding tracks without the need for land acquisition. Electrification, which is a must for the local railway sector, will be costly initially but will pay for itself in the long run. Moves are now being made to electrify segments of the main lines and to increase speeds. Rail travel will get a further boost when the line from Matara to Beliatta opens next year with an eventual 90 Km extension planned to Hambantota and Kataragama.

With no traffic congestion to take care of, railways are also inherently faster than any form of road transport. Rail travel from Colombo is even now faster (150 mins approx) than travelling by the A1 road to Kandy (5 hours approx). Upgrading the tracks to boost speeds up to 125 Km/h and increasing the frequency of trains will nudge more people to travel by rail between Colombo and other main cities. However, we do need more modern and comfortable compartments for all suburban and long distance trains.

As experts have rightly pointed out, restrictions on the type of vehicles allowed on expressways mean that 70 percent of travellers like those using normal buses, three-wheeled auto-rickshaw taxis and motorcycles would not be able to use them although all tax payers bear the massive cost of the projects. On the other hand, anyone can travel by train. The train services can be complemented by ultra-luxury articulated buses, which are like mini-trains. We need a balanced mixture of road and rail transport as we head into the future. A seamlessly integrated comprehensive public transport system will help take thousands of cars off the road at busy times and cut down on fuel wastage as well.

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