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Monorail - the answer to Colombo's traffic congestion

Feasibility studies to connect Fort and Malabe at final stage:

The opening of the southern , Katunayake, and the outer circular expressway has given an opportunity for the people living outside Colombo city to seriously think about their future when planning on their future residencies. They may have to decide between investing their money to build a house in their home town or to purchase a land close to Colombo.

There were times when people thought living close to Colombo was a major advantage, after considering their workplaces in Colombo city limits and considering the education of children in Colombo centered schools and other educational institutions.

With the new developments in the transportation sector, and the opening of expressways, people tend to move away from the Colombo city as well as from Colombo suburbs as travelling in the congested city roads has become a daily nuisance compared to travelling from outstations using train services.

Ironically, while people from Panadura, Kalutara, Gampaha and Aluthgama reach their hometowns from Colombo by train within one hour, those living closer to Colombo (in areas such as Battaramulla, Malabe and Athurugiriya) have to spend more time to reach their destination from Colombo.

Office workers find those living in Ambalangoda, Galle, Polgahawela, Alawwa reach home by train much quicker than the fellow workers living in Battaramulla, Malabe , Kaduwela, Piliyandala, Kesbewa or Homagama.

Moreover, with the opening of the Katunayake expressway people in Jaela, Negombo, or Chilaw have also got the opportunity to reach their destination faster than earlier with the commencement of the bus services on the expressway. Therefore, people who opted to live in boarding houses in Colombo to attend office and studies have reverted to travel from their home towns.

Adding to this situation people living in Galle and Matara also get an opportunity to reach their southern towns in less than one and half hours after entering the expressway either from Kaduwela or Kottawa. This has made travelling much easier for them. But when it comes to travelling to the centre of Colombo city from these transit points the situation becomes worse as the increasing number of vehicles create a huge traffic congestion in the Colombo city and its suburbs.

Although a person from Matara can reach Kottawa within one and half hours people have to spend an equal time to reach Colombo city along the High Level Road or from Kaduwela side along Malabe - Battaramulla Road.

Speedy access

Therefore, there is a need to find solution for the people to have a speedy access to the Colombo city from using public transportation systems.

To overcome this problem, the Ministry of Transport has embarked on a project to launch the Urban Transport Development Project for Colombo Metropolitan Region and Suburbs under a grant assistance from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

According to Additional Secretary Planning of the Ministry of Transport J.M. Thilakarathna Banda, the study was started in May 2012 after JICA gave a grant for a comprehensive study to reduce the traffic congestion in the Colombo Metropolitan area and suburbs as it has become a serious issue impeding the rapid development process taking place in the Colombo city limits in terms of man hours lost per day.

"Shaping the future of the urban transport system by promoting the public transport system in Colombo metropolitan area was the vision of this study", he said.

This study also aimed at adopting an overall planning strategy of having integrated urban development within an urban transport system, introducing a new public transport system, introducing user friendly transit facilities for existing public transport and to increase road capacity and optimise its use.

"The study also aimed at addressing the transport issues within the Colombo Metropolitan region considering its future expansions upto year 2035", he said.

The project was aimed at conducting a comprehensive study on the transport system in the metro Colombo area and to identify the solutions to address the transport issues till 2035. The study is now at its final stage and we are more focusing on identifying the solutions for the major traffic issues.

The study was conducted by a team of Japanese from the JICA along with a team of transport experts from Sri Lanka.

The number of vehicles entering the Colombo city from different directions were identified and people were interviewed to identify their transport requirements and the origin and end of their journeys.

Under this study they have identified seven corridors from which vehicles are entering the Colombo city. Galle, Horana, Negombo, Kandy, Low Level, High Level and Malabe corridors were identified and it has been estimated that over one million people are entering the Colombo city through these seven corridors. The highest number of people - 174,000 - are reported from Galle Road and the second highest of 157,000 persons enter the city via Malabe corridor.

"To address the issues relating to each corridor, different solutions have been identified through this study," he said.

For instance, to reduce the congestion on the Negombo corridor, it has been identified to improve the Puttalam railway line and to introduce a bus priority lane on the Negombo Road. Bus Priority System has been identified for the traffic congestion on the Low Level Road through this study.

"To address the traffic issues on Kandy corridor also they have identified Bus Rapid Transport system upto Kiribathgoda and to modernise the Main Railway Line", he said.

To reduce the traffic congestion on the High Level Road the study has identified a mono rail system from Borella to Homagama while recommending to modernising the coast railway line and introducing Bus Rapid Transport System as a solution for the Galle corridor.

"As a solution for the Malabe corridor which is having the highest number of private vehicles, a mono rail system has been identified as a solution for the traffic congestion along the Battaramulla - Malabe corridor," Thilakarathna Banda said.

Since the study also aimed at conducting a feasibility study for a new transport mode, feasibility studies are now being conducted for the monorail system to address the issue of traffic congestion specially for the Malabe corridor.

"Monorail system has been identified as a solution for the Malabe corridor as the biggest number of private vehicles are entering the Colombo city from Malabe - Battaramulla - Rajagiriya corridor.

This is a possible solution for this section as the Government has decided to shift all the government Ministries and institutions to Battaramulla and the Military Headquarters to Pelawatta area", he said.

"Introduction of the monorail system will be an effective way to cater to the increasing demand for transportation in Battaramaulla area and also to reduce the number of private vehicles using the road", he said.

"Monorail is also feasible for this corridor as it requires minimum land acquisition. As a trace have been identified through a marshy and uncultivable lands from the Sethsiripaya to the Thalahena trace", he said. "Although the monorail has been proposed upto Kaduwela, the first phase will focus only upto Malabe", he said.

Feasibility studies are now being done to extend this monorail service upto Kotahena via Colombo Fort and then to Kelaniya via Mattakkuliya.

However, the final decision whether to introduce the monorail system as a solution for the congested roads will be taken by the Government after considering the final report of the study due in two months.

"The decision to implement this project will be decided on the basis of availability of funding sources and the affordability for the public to use this transport system to the masses. However if we can reduce the number of vehicles coming into the city through the introduction of this monorail system that will have major impact on reducing the congestion on roads", he said.

"This type of transport development is required in the Colombo city parallel to the rapid development taking place in the city at present.

If we cannot match the transport facilities with the city beautification and development project that will impede the development process in the city", he said.

To make these transport modes more efficient there should be a central transport hub in the Colombo city and the study aims at developing a central transport hub connecting all the bus stands and the railway stations including the proposed monorail station, he said.

"Therefore, we are aiming to have a central transport hub using the land at the Manning market , shifting the market to Peliyagoda very soon.

The feasibility study is also focusing on having a central transport hub in the Pettah by bringing all the bus terminals scattered in Pettah to one place, and providing a better access for the transport hub", he said.

"With the finalising of the study report and the feasibility study, the Government will take a decision to implement whatever the possible measures to streamline the traffic along the city streets and to develop a new transport mode such as monorail system to make the public transport system more efficient on a short term, medium term and long term basis", he said.

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