Sreedharan, Elias, Kochi Metro: It Pays to be Tenacious

Kochi Metro

‘‘Don’t miss out on a trip by the tube, while in London,” friends advised me as I prepared for my maiden visit to the Queen’s capital from the Libyan capital, Tripoli, in March 1978, accompanied by my spouse Aleyamma and our twin-sons Jose and George, both two-and-a-half years old.

Tube? How do you get into a tube and travel, without suffering claustrophobia? The puzzle lingered on until we alighted at London’s Heathrow airport, and were guided by an airport assistant saying “take that elevator down and you reach the tube station!”

The one-hour trip to the Gloucestershire Road station from Heathrow had many surprises in store for us. Having suffered through the rush and stink of the suburban rail network in Bombay while studying there during 1960-64, the clean and tidy coaches, the fault-free automatic doors, and the noiseless slipping over enclosed tracks, all revealed a whole new world of locomotion before me. Most of the run was through tunnels underground nick-named ‘tube’ and hence, the term ‘tube train.’ Occasionally, the train would emerge from the tunnel and move in daylight, which was a delightful experience for Jose and George, both observing that the train was playing hide-and-seek to entertain them. Indeed, that maiden encounter with the metro train in London, one of the longest in the world even today, with nearly 450 km of criss-crossing tracks, resembled a city under the city.

Over the years, during half-a-dozen visits to London, the encounter with the tube was one of the repeat experiences anxiously looked forward to. Every time there was something new to satiate my curiosity; new lines added, more modern coaches in service, ever-growing crowds of commuters, all disciplined and law abiding, always letting the other person enter or alight first, never rushing in to catch a seat or vantage position – something we Indians still have to learn.

In 1995, Berlin’s U Bahn, the metro rail service of the German capital, gave me more surprises with its gleaming, elegant carriages that rode high above the road network, on tracks supported by giant pillars. My brush with Bangkok’s metro offered me yet another experience. Being an official guest, I was provided with a car and a senior guide. “But, you must travel our Metropolitan Rapid Transport just for the heck of it,” Tom, my guide suggested, and so we took a trip from Sukhumvit Road station to Bang Sua, a short distance from the city centre, to the suburb. It was worth it.

While in Hong Kong, working as a journalist, the city’s MTR was my chief means of motion as the five-coach marvel moved through the ‘tube’ under the South China Sea, to reach Kowloon from HK island. The year was 1984.
In Kuala Lumpur, another delight awaited me in the shape of the monorail, a pleasant trip over the twin-tower city.
I still have to make it to Kochi to have my date with Kochi Metro, the new metro service there. It may be interesting to note that an oil-rich country like Iran too had to wait till 2017 to launch its metro rail service, currently confined to its capital Tehran. We are not all that lagging, truly!

I have never had the privilege to interact with either E Sreedharan, the metro-man of India, or Elias George, the executor of the will of the people for a mass transit rail system in the metropolis of Kochi. Here is saluting the two, for the near-impossible task they have accomplished in a State like Kerala, where land acquisition and related affairs around mega projects aimed at providing a better tomorrow for its people, can get quite challenging.

It pays to be tenacious, determined and uncompromising, focusing solely on the challenges, one at a time. Seedharan and Elias are sterling examples of this eternal truth.