Metro Rail & Retro Mail

Upon reaching the platform on the top floor of the newly-inaugurated Guindy Metro Rail station, the first thing you notice is, well, the platform of the nearby Guindy Railway station.

The splendid bird’s eye vista of the old Railway station from the spanking new Metro Rail Station presents an interesting picture of contrast: One, grimy, hot and crowded. But miraculously still working. The other, fresh, cool and spacious. But still untested. It is almost as if two facile metaphors — for what India really is and for what India hopes to be — had been placed together in campy juxtaposition.

We were there on the day of inauguration of the services between Little Mount and the Chennai Airport to check out the facilities so that we can present to you, in the time-honoured tradition of this column, an irresponsible account of what we encountered.

The Guindy Metro Rail station is right on the arterial GST Road (Anna Salai) and the best way to reach it is to take a regular EMU service and get down at the Guindy railway station. Yes, this may be the first train station which is well served by another train station. Have you noticed that increasingly we are moving towards a world where we need some kind of transport to access other transport services?

The entrance of the Metro station is spacious and the steps are wide and neat. But we are hardy journos, so we choose a slightly narrower option, the escalator, that takes us to the station’s ‘concourse’. Some of you may wonder what a ‘concourse’ is. Well, it is any part of a station that is not a platform.

Inside the concourse, we decide to try out the mechanised ticket vending machine, but we don’t have the exact change for the tickets. But no worries, the vending machine is equipped to take in rupees in any denomination and dispense proper change. The technology behind it is simple: A Metro Rail attendant stands close by and doles out the right amount of change for the tickets. Seriously, that is what happened to us. But she says since these are early days for the Metro service, she is hanging around to help unwary commuters. Once people get used to the mechanised ticket dispenser, she will have to give up her current post, which I guess is entitled: Chief Dispenser, Change, CMRL.

The tickets look like plastic poker chips and they have to be slid across a digital spot for the mechanised gates to open. The Metro Rail Corporation has understandably made most of its facilities mechanised so that the human staff can be diverted to better use, like for telling the public how to use the mechanised facilities available at the Metro stations. So we had a couple of helpful staffers explain us how to use the ‘digital’ tickets at the entry point.

After we get past the gates, we have to reach the platforms that is two floors above. There is a lift and staircase. We ignore both and decide to take the escalator, which is also there, but we forgot to mention in the previous sentence. The platform is pretty expansive and well laid out with digital screens hanging from up telling us when the next train is due to arrive. When we go in, the train to Airport is set to arrive in ‘four minutes’ time. While waiting for the train, we decide to explore around what looked to be a lengthy platform. We walk the entire stretch and find out what we had astutely suspected in the first place: The platform is indeed lengthy.

 As we stand watching the digital screen — call it the marvel of modern technology — it goes totally blank. When it comes alive a few seconds later, the message it beams is: Train to airport will arrive in ’11 minutes’. How did 4 minutes suddenly become 11 minutes on a pre-fixed, traffic-less route? This might seem an impossibility but we have flown Air India in its typical Air India days when a flight is officially announced to be delayed for two hours, it can also mean not taking off at all in your lifetime. So we are not surprised.

The train eventually arrives, being the first day, bedecked with flowers and smells nice. The interiors are bright and comfy, giving what a true modern traveller looks for — a good spot to take selfies in. The trip to airport is mostly uneventful, except that you get superb views of some city spots from vantages that you have not been used to. I can safely assure you it is only on a Metro Rail service you can get a up-close, top-view of Alandur Municipal office.    Also, the train passes through — this is a first time in Chennai — an underground tunnel, but on reflection it was a tad underwhelming as some of the potholes in our locality are decidedly deeper,

On the whole, it is two thumbs up from me. One for the new Metro Rail service. The other, of course, for hitch-hiking  a ride from the Metro Rail stations.