If you are a Chennaiite and looking for a quick getaway that is agreeably cool but relatively cheap, where nobody can reach you on your mobile, a location that is mostly quiet but still not too remote, a place that is new and still not fallen prey to the predatory tourism industry, well, I think I have found an ideal spot for you: The Nehru Park Metro Rail station.
I say this with all seriousness. As it is, most of the patronage for Metro Rail services comes only from public who see them as some kind of novel attraction. Otherwise, the Metro Rail serves about eight people. So, might as well go the whole hog and make Metro railway stations proper tourist spots. At any rate, Metro stations already possess that one thing that all popular vacation locations in India unfailingly have: Poor parking facilities.
The problem with Metro rail services in Chennai now is — pay close attention here — it doesn’t go to places where the public would generally want to go. For instance, one of the stops on the newly-opened Airport Nehru Park sector is Pachaiyappa’s College. I don’t think any normal person would want to go anywhere near that college, and on the other hand, those studying in the college are not known to travel inside any moving vehicle. On a bus, their preferred spot of travel is: Its top (I know this is insensitive and a sweeping generalisation. But for heaven’s sake, this is supposed to be a humour column and not a social treatise). Yet another stop in the sector is: Ekattuthangal. Have you ever heard any Chennaiite say, ‘hey, I want to go to Ekkatuthangal’?. Me neither. I am sure nobody lives there and there is nothing there at all in Ekkatuthangal. For all we know, there may be no Ekkatuthangal, and it is just a mythical made-up place like Lemuria.
The point is, for the lay public in Chennai, Metro Rail is mostly something that whizzes past above their heads from time to time, like some strange comet. This is in direct contrast to the EMU services that could actually do with some less patronage. And, by boy, the railway authorities do their darn best to keep away the passengers. Almost all the suburban railway stations are reachable only if you know to polevault.
To be specific, on the Station Road, which leads to the Mambalam railway station, there are more obstacles than there are on the Temple Run game. On the other side — on the Ranganathan Street — at any given point of the day, the crowd is more than the population of Norway. Yet, despite all such issues, EMUs are always jam-packed whereas on a Metro rail service the engine driver cabin is practically good enough to accommodate all its travellers. As things stand, it will take 80 years for the Metro Rail Corporation to make the money that Baahubalihas made in three weeks.
But there is hope that the newly extended Metro Rail service, worming through Anna Nagar and its neighbourhoods, can bring in more patrons as the whole area has become extremely congested in recent times due to, wait for it, Metro Rail construction.
Also, much of the new service passes through underground tunnel, which should be a fascinating experience for the city so far used to travel through open spaces, except in the case of share autos which can zip through even concrete buildings. To check out the new tunnel service, a colleague and I went all the way up to Nehru Park (fun fact: Nobody got down at Pachaiyappa’s College), and here I will use all my journalistic experience to describe the Metro Rail service through the long stretch of tunnel: Dark.
When the train runs through the tunnel, it is pitch black outside and you can basically see nothing. But it didn’t deter many enthusiastic train riders from trying to capture the scene on their mobile phones. Those pics will doubtless make their way to their Facebook/WhatsApp accounts and their friends will spend considerable MBs of internet data to download and see: total darkness.
But the journey itself is unfussy but pleasant, and the ride from Nehru Park to the Airport Metro Station takes just 40 minutes, which is also the time that will take you to reach the airport terminal from the Airport Metro station. I mean they still haven’t sorted out the internal confusion and the way to reach the airport from the Airport Metro station there is cumbersome. Perhaps they can think of a Metro service connecting the two buildings. That, I am sure, will see a lot of patronage.
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