Even as the Railways affirms that efforts will be made to develop major railway stations and underutilised premises, if any, as city centres, stakeholders have expressed concern at over 100 acres of prime railway land in the marshalling yard spread over Kathrikadavu-Ponnurunni area, located east of Ernakulam Junction railway station, lying grossly underutilised.
The fear is also rife that the land will be encroached upon, if there is any further delay in developing it as an Integrated Coaching Terminal (ICT), a project envisaged a decade ago.
The Railways had recently decided to make optimal use of prime land that abut railway stations, by replacing old low-height and sparsely-distributed buildings, if any, with multi-storey ones to tap the commercial potential of land.
The ICT project spread over the Kathrikadavu-Ponnurunni area suffered many delays, although the Southern Railway was keen to execute it on a PPP basis, considering its potential to host approximately 10 platforms vis a vis Ernakulam Junction which has just six platforms and is struggling to accommodate trains. This would in turn speed up trains through the district, most of which have to wait in the periphery of the station and of Ernakulam Town station, both of which together have only eight platforms.
However, the Thiruvananthapuram Division was sceptical of this and pointed out in 2021 how this would result in three railway stations located close to each other, affecting the overall operation of trains.
The differing perspectives surfaced a few months after Kerala Rail Development Corporation Ltd. (KRDCL) submitted its feasibility report on the project to Southern Railway in early 2021, and offered to prepare a DPR for the ICT project, including key aspects like technical parameters and funding options. The feasibility report also hinted at establishing connectivity from the premises to Edappally-Aroor NH 66 Bypass, through Thammanam-Pullepady Road that the PWD is expected to develop as a four-lane stretch.
Prior to this, a preliminary project report was prepared by a private firm at the behest of Hibi Eden, MP, who submitted it to the then Railway Minister in 2019. Mr. Eden expressed concern at the inordinate delay in making optimal use of the sprawling yard premises. “I raised the issue many times in the Parliament and went on to pursue it with the Prime Minister and consecutive railway ministers. The ICT project would help speed up trains in much of the State,” he said.
The general secretary of Thrissur Railway Passengers’ Association (TRPA) P. Krishnakumar spoke of how the ICT project would decongest the two main railway stations in the city and usher in commercial development of the yard premises.
“Trains can be operated from here to the three neighbouring districts, much like a hub-and-spoke model. Emphasis must be given to the project, especially since there is a dedicated official in each railway division under the Gatisakthi scheme to oversee infra-development works.”
Official sources said that there are differences of opinion on the feasibility of the project. Aspects like optimal land utilisation need to be worked out, they added.
The Railway is also found wanting in taking proactive steps to revive the sprawling Harbour Terminus railway station on Willingdon Island near here, located just six km from Ernakulam Junction station.