Kerala’s Silverline Project


Protests against Kerala SilverLine grow; in village after village, concern over ‘secrecy’

About Silverline Project:

The 529.45 km SilverLine corridor connecting Kasaragod and Thiruvananthapuram, with an operating speed of 200kmph, eases the transport between North and South ends of the state and reduces the total travel time to less than 4 hours, compared with the present 10 to 12 hours. The intermediate stations include Kollam, Chengannur, Kottayam, Ernakulam, Kochi Airport, Thrissur, Tirur, Kozhikode and Kannur.


Why it Need

  • Time saving: On the existing network, it now takes 12 hours. Once the project is completed, one can travel from Kasaragod to Thiruvananthapuram in less than four hours at 200 km/hr.
  • Old infrastructure: Existing railway infrastructure in Kerala cannot meet the demands of the future.
  • Terrain limitations: Most trains run at an average speed of 45 km/hr due to a lot of curves and bends on the existing stretch.
  • De-trafficking: The project can take a significant load of traffic off the existing stretch and make travel faster for commuters, which in turn will reduce congestion on roads and help reduce accidents.
  • Others: The project would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, help in expansion of Ro-Ro services, produce employment opportunities, integrate airports and IT corridors, and enable faster development of cities it passes through.

Positives of the proposed project

  • Reduces the pressure on Kerala’s heavily choked 1,800 km highways
  • Fast high quality connectivity
  • Substantial reduction in road accidents due to decongestion on road
  • Benefits the tourism industry due to the efficient movement of visitors between destinations at economic rates
  • Savings in fuel consumption
  • Clean mode of transport with reduction in Greenhouse gas emissions due to a shift from conventional transport to SilverLine
  • Introduction of RORO facilities leads to transport of vehicles such as trucks, lorries, etc. in an environment friendly manner
  • Last mile connectivity by providing cab feeder services, share auto services, eBus services, bicycle/bike rental schemes
  • E-charging facilities for individual electric vehicles
  • Connecting IT corridors – Technopark and Infopark
  • Direct and indirect employment opportunities during construction period and post project operation period

  • Concern regarding Public finance:
  • Critics argues that given the perilous nature of Kerala’s public finance system, government should focus top on enhancing tax collection efficiency, instead of increasing the public debt burden that will, in all likelihood, constrain future developmental and non-developmental expenditure.
  • Moreover, given the devastating floods of 2018 and 2019, as well as the continuing climate-related adverse events and the Covid-19 pandemic, experts suggest that government efforts, energy and resources be primarily directed to environmental restoration and strengthening the natural capital (land, water and other bio-resources) and the creation of a strong public healthcare system.
  • Feasibility Concern:
  • Given the projected ticket prices of SilverLine, the only competition will be with airfares or first-class train fares.
  • The estimate of 80,000 people travelling per day is not a realistic one.
  • Kerala’s experience in implementing public projects in irrigation, electricity generation and roads and bridges, have been marred with delays.
  • Some of the irrigation projects are still in the construction mode even after spending several times the initial cost estimate for 30 to 40 years.
  • Critics fear that such poor record will lead to cost escalation of already expensive project.
  • Socio-economic Concern: A petition, addressed to the Union Railways Minister, said the project was financially unviable and would lead to displacement of over 30,000 families.
  • Environmental Concerns:
  • Local Civil societies and green activists allege that SilverLine would cause great environmental harm as its route cuts through precious wetlands, paddy fields and hills.
  • The project is expected to have serious impact on the natural flow of watercourses and land masses that come in the way of the project.
  • Concerns has been raised that building of embankments on either side of the major portion of the line will block natural drainage and cause floods during heavy rains.
  • Issues have also been raised in planning for the development of the transport system:
  • Kerala have five modes of transportation: Road, rail, air, inland waterways and sea-based coastal transport.
  • It has disproportionate dependence on the road system. Despite having the highest road density among all the states, the poor condition of Kerala’s roads calls for urgent attention.
  • The state’s water transport system is still underdeveloped and the once-active inland waterway transport system has steadily deteriorated.
  • From a development planning perspective, it’s important to take stock of the existing state of Kerala’s transportation system, point out its shortcomings, find ways to address them and seek a balance among the five modes.
  • Technical Concerns:
  • India’s technological and managerial strength lies in its vast broad-gauge-based railway network that has a 160-year-old history.
  • By opting for a different technological system — the standard gauge — State will be importing and planting an alien technology whose installation, operation and management will be entirely controlled by foreign corporate entities.
  • E Sreedharan, former Delhi Metro head, said the present proposal needs a lot of correction including its basic track width.
  • Impact on other Industries:
  • Given the massive nature of the construction, the demand for natural resources (such as granite, sand and soil) and manufactured high-carbon footprint materials (such as steel and cement) will be so enormous that they might trigger environmental adversities with long-term social and economic consequences.
  • The project might also trigger a price rise for these resources upset the initial cost calculations besides adversely affecting the construction industry.

Way Forward:

  • Given its massive size, geographical coverage and the likely social and environmental impacts, the publication of its techno-economic feasibility reports should have preceded the state government’s decision to proceed with the project.
  • State government should release the techno-economic feasibility reports to enable wider discussion.
  • Subjecting this project proposal to a discussion in the Kerala legislative assembly as well as in the public sphere is not only in keeping with the spirit of democratic governance but would also set a precedent.
  • Once a project is found to be techno-economically feasible, it is important to follow up with social as well as environmental impact studies.
  • Issues relating to social and environmental impacts, deserve to be studied in detail by independent experts.
  • On the basis of such discussions, the government of Kerala will be in a position to take an appropriate decision.
  • India has already demonstrated the feasibility of manufacturing and operating a new high-speed railway train system called Train 18 (Vande Bharat Express) that is being expanded to cover several routes. Experts suggests that this new railway system can be one of the alternatives.


  • Public discussions have so far raised several questions and pointed to fears and anxieties that must be removed. Protests have also taken place across the state.
    It is, therefore, highly desirable to wait till the feasibility reports are published and public opinions and expert comments are heard.

Source: Indian Express

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