Mumbai: The expansion of railway lines in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) – which officials and experts say is imperative to decongest local trains – will eat away at a significant amount of green cover in the area, show documents accessible to the public.
According to a pending proposal with the state forest department, construction of a third railway line between Kalyan and Kasara in Thane district will eat away over 17 hectares of notified forest land – more than once and a half the size of Azad Maidan. The railway line is expected to be operational by March 2025.
Confirming the same, DD Lolge, Deputy Engineer of Central Railway said, “At present, two lines run between Kalyan and Kasara which falls under the ‘Mumbai’ division of Central Railway. Since commuter, postal and express trains, in addition to freight trains, share these two lines, Kalyan-Kasara is one of the most congested routes in the country. This third railway line will be extremely beneficial because it will be able to allow long-distance and freight trains to run on a dedicated track, and we will then be able to increase commuter train services.
According to documents submitted to the Forest Department by the Central Railway, a total of 147 local trains, 71 long-distance trains and about 20 freight trains cross this line every day. “Work on the third line has begun in phases, as the state government hands over the required plots of land. Clearing is also underway and once we receive it the work will speed up considerably,” added Lolge.
This is the third such project for the increase in railways in and around Mumbai which will result in the loss of forest land.
HT had reported in March that the expansion of the railway lines between Virar-Dahanu (by the Mumbai Railway Vikas Corporation) would together require the diversion of approximately 26.5 hectares of forest land and involve the felling of more than 25 000 trees, including 24,000 mangroves.
As the existing double-line corridor between Virar-Dahanu is oversaturated, with commuter trains competing with postal trains and freight carriers, it is not possible to increase the number of commuter services in this stretch, said an official of the MRVC, on condition of anonymity.
Consequently, it was decided to lay two additional lines to allow a separate corridor for commuter services, as was done for the Churchgate-Virar section of the WR. The lines are being laid on the west side of the existing lines, with the Center freight corridor project being planned on the east side.
The MRVC has also sought permission from the state forest department to divert 12.7 hectares of mangrove forest through the districts of Mumbai (suburb), Thane and Dahanu to make way for the fifth and sixth line of road of railway between Borivali and Virar on the Western Railway (WR), which is being executed under Phase III of the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP).
Zoru Bhatena, a city-based environmentalist, said the loss of forest cover must be seen in the context of the benefits of the project. “Railways are an important mode of public infrastructure. There will be significant benefits from extending services on one of the most congested and accident-prone rail systems in the world. But before permission is granted, a plan must be made public for transplanting and compensatory reforestation which can then be verified by citizens,” he said.