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First underground metro train line inaugurated in Chennai

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The much anticipated underground line of Chennai Metro Rail opened for the public on the 14th May, making the city the fourth in the country to launch such a facility after Kolkata, Delhi and Bengaluru. The line will cover a distance of eight kilometres from Nehru Park to Koyambedu, through tunnels and seven underground stations, to connect the already operational line at Koyambedu.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edapaddi Palaniswami and Union minister for Urban Development Venkaiah Naidu flagged off a train and inaugurated the 8km underground line between Thirumangalam and Nehru Park on Sunday the 14th May. The underground metro train line was a pet project of late CM J. Jayalithaa.

The 7.4-kilometre stretch will connect Tirumangalam and Nehru Park along the inner periphery of North Chennai. Passenger services will begin 2pm onwards. A few free services were run between Thirumangalam and Nehru Park. The underground line has seven stations, which are in turn linked to the elevated corridors through a ramp between Thirumangalam and Koyambedu.

The underground line gives several localities including Kilpauk, New Avadi Road, Shenoy Nagar and Anna Nagar access to mass transit facility for the first time. The train sped in its maximum speed non-stop across the seven underground stations till Nehru Park. It then took them on a ride on the ramp that connects the underground and elevated corridors to Koyambedu.

The trains will run along both tunnels only between Koyambedu and Shenoy Nagar. Only one tunnel will be operational for trains running up and down between Shenoy Nagar and Nehru Park, as it would not be possible for trains to change tracks without a crossover. There is a crossover at Shenoy Nagar and another is being built at Central metro station. Hence, the other tunnel between Shenoy Nagar and Nehru Park will be opened along with Central metro station, planned by the end of 2017.

The stations are also built underneath prime locations in the city, giving commuters easy access. Four entry/exit points built with elevators and escalators on either side of roads will make it hassle-free for passengers to get in and out of stations without having to cross the roads. The stations are also located close to stops for MTC buses which can ferry passengers to other parts of the city. However, they may not provide the last mile connectivity where commuters will be able to reach the interior areas of the neighborhoods around the stations in small buses or share autos.

While the underground stations are similar to the existing elevated stations in terms of their two-level station design and ticket or token vending machines, passengers will still experience many new features. These may include air-conditioned interiors, tunnel ventilation systems, platform screen doors and detailed route maps to guide passengers to nearby localities.

Many commuters waited for several hours to take a free joy ride. The second train from Thirumangalam station began its journey in the midst of applause and cheers from passengers. “We had been eagerly waiting for years for this line to open. It is worth the wait. The experience is something we have never had before,” said 61-year-old Arumugam, a resident of Thirumangalam who took a a joyride along with his family.

Among the first passenger crowd were several residents from Thirumangalam and surrounding areas. A metro rail official confirmed they are all set to open the city’s first underground line on May 14. The inauguration comes almost a month after the commissioner of metro rail safety gave authorization for commercial operations after a three-day inspection across the stretch. Tamil Nadu minister for industries, steel control, mines & minerals and special initiatives M C Sampath visited the underground line between Thirumangalam and Nehru Park stations on Tuesday. The minister inspected the work in progress and safety measures, besides the facilities at the stations. The inauguration of the first underground stretch of phase-1 of the project, which is jointly funded by the Centre and state, is expected to be attended by top officials from the ministry of urban development and the state transport department besides other senior officials from the state.

The stations will connect several neighborhoods including Kilpauk, New Avadi Road, Shenoy Nagar, Aminjikarai, Anna Nagar and Thirumangalam, giving access to mass transit facility for its residents for the first time. A part of the line will run about 18 metres under the arterial Poonamallee High Road.

With the underground line, commuters can head anywhere from Nehru Park to the airport in one direction, and to Little Mount in the other, in about 60 minutes with a single ticket. However, they may have to switch corridors at the Alandur metro station, which is the elevated transit hub.

Metro rail’s first line was launched in June 2015 between Koyambedu and Alandur, covering a distance of 11 km through an elevated corridor. It was followed a nine kilometer elevated line from Little Mount to the airport in September 2016.

Chennai Metro Rail has carried out a special study that reportedly shows train vibrations do not affect the buildings close to the underground stretch. This is of significance in the backdrop of tunneling work leading to several road cave-in incidents across the city and the first underground stretch is all set to open in a few days. According to officials of Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL), the lining of tunnels is built in such a way that it can withstand a substantial amount of vibrations of trains. Also, a low vibration technology has been carried out before laying tracks at places where hospitals or laboratories are located, they said. Rubber pads placed. “We place rubber pads between stage one and stage two concrete of tunnel; after this process, the tracks are laid. The pads of 40 mm will dampen the vibrations from trains. These have been placed in 12 locations across the city, including Kilpauk Medical College, Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital and Vee Care Hospital. Hospitals have sensitive equipment which may feel even the slightest of vibrations and disrupt its functioning; hence this idea,” an official said.

In other areas too, though such pads are not laid, they claim the study and subsequent trials with trains show the vibrations are not beyond the permissible limit. Experts from IIT Madras said the precast segments that a tunnel is made of will take in the vibrations from trains.

B.N. Rao, another professor of civil engineering at IIT Madras, said, “I haven’t looked at the report but they may have arrived at values and consequently gone ahead with operations based on varied factors. This is because, usually, the vibration values will vary depending on the soil structure, the depth of tunnel and the speed of trains and its acceleration and deceleration in various areas.”

India’s longest river bridge

Meanwhile, India’s longest river bridge, capable of withstanding the weight of a 60-tonne battle tank, will be inaugurated in Assam close to the border with China on May 26 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. With the inauguration of the 9.15-km-long Dhola-Sadiya Bridge over the Brahmaputra River, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will start the celebrations of the NDA government’s three years in office from this eastern-most part of Assam. It is 3.55 km longer than the Bandra-Worli sea link in Mumbai, making it the longest bridge in India.

The bridge is seen as an attempt by India to shore up its defence requirements along the Sino-Indian border, particularly in the northeast, besides providing easy access to the people of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam with air and rail connectivity. “The prime minister will dedicate the strategically important bridge to the nation on May 26. It will bolster the road connectivity in the Northeast as the bridge will be used by people of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh besides defence forces extensively,” Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal told PTI.

The construction of the bridge began in 2011 at a project cost of Rs. 950 crore. The design is such that the bridge can withstand the movement of military tanks. “Assam and Arunachal Pradesh have huge strategic value to the country. Since the bridge is located close to our border with China, it will help quick movement of military troops and artillery in times of conflict,” Sonowal said.

The bridge is located 540-km away from Assam’s capital Dispur and 300 km away from Arunachal Pradesh’s capital Itanagar. The aerial distance to the Chinese border is less than 100 km.

After Kaliabhomora bridge near Tezpur, there is no bridge over the Brahmaputra for the next 375 km upstream till Dhola, where the new bridge is constructed. Currently, all transportation between the river’s two banks is carried out through water only.

The bridge, when opened for the public, will cut down the travel time between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh by as much as four hours. As there is no civilian airport in Arunachal Pradesh, this bridge will help people of the state to reach the nearest rail head in Tinsukia and the airport in Dibrugarh easily. Sonowal said the delayed works of the bridge was expedited after PM Modi assumed the charge in 2014. The bridge was originally scheduled to open in 2015.

The BJP government in Assam will complete one year in office on May 24. The bridge is one of the key projects of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways in the Northeast and is built in public-private partnership with a construction company.

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Beyond the Liberty Bell: Exploring Western Philly

MD Staff

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A visit to Philadelphia is sure to be steeped in American history and culture. It doesn’t get more American than the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, where the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. And it doesn’t get more authentically Philly than cheesesteaks at competing Geno’s Steaks and Pat’s King Of Steaks, and the oldest farmers market in the country, Reading Terminal Market. But, when you’ve been there, done that, what else can you explore?

Philadelphia neighborhoods beckon the savvy traveler who can, by slowing down, get a glimpse of what it’s like to live here, to exhale and experience the heart and soul of a great American city. One neighborhood that’s not on the radar of many travelers, but should be, is West Philadelphia, or West Philly as it is commonly known, with University City as its bustling heartbeat. Aptly named — the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University are located here — the area buzzes with youthful exuberance. The diverse, worldwide student population brings the magic of different languages, dialects and customs to the area.

Strolling along the bustling sidewalks, visitors will find a foodie’s dream with a vibrant street-food scene, high-end, locally owned restaurants and everything in between. Historic sites and museums are everywhere, with some pop culture icons as well, and the parks add a touch of green to the cobblestone and brick.

Here are some gems of West Philly not to be missed:

* The Penn Museum will take you back to ancient times in faraway places and other lands. You’ll find jewelry from Ethiopia, Mayan sculptures, an Egyptian tomb, the Granite Sphinx of Ramses and new Middle East galleries. After you’ve seen the amazing American History of Philadelphia, the Penn Museum gives you the world.

* World Cafe Live is a multi-level venue devoted to music and good food. Take a seat upstairs at the chic Upstairs Live Cafe, where you can get late-night food and drinks along with an eclectic array of live music (they don’t call it World Cafe Live for nothing!). Downstairs Live is a larger concert venue, hosting nationally known artists. It’s also the home of WXPN radio, which broadcasts a show of the same name.

* The Study at University City is a local gem for guests who believe the right hotel can enhance and elevate an already wonderful trip into the stratosphere. This is not a cookie-cutter chain, but a boutique that features local artwork in an onsite gallery; hand-blown glass light fixtures (locally made); display cases with artifacts of the city’s past; and its lobby, dubbed the Living Room, a vibrant and dynamic core of the hotel, a gathering place for guests to feel at home.

* Schuylkill River Trail meanders along some 30 miles of the Schuylkill river, and is a favorite of bicyclists, walkers, runners and families. Enjoy the green space along the riverfront, or use it as your way to and from the Philadelphia Museum of Art and other area attractions. If you really want to get your exercise and American history on, you can pick up the trail in West Philly and take it all the way to Valley Forge National Historical Park.

* The multitude of cuisines in the West Philly neighborhood is reflective of the diversity of the student population. A true foodie destination that’s a bit off the beaten path, you’ll find African, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Indian spots with daring fusions of flavors; upscale, chef-driven restaurants; and down-home Philly goodness. Highly recommended from the city’s foodie community: Marigold Kitchen (its gin-marinated venison gets rave reviews), Aksum, which blends Mediterranean and North African cuisine; and Dock Street Brewing (Philly’s first microbrewery) for all-American bar food, burgers and of course, beer.

For other insider tips on exploring West Philly, contact the knowledgeable staff at The Study at University City. They’ll make sure you get the most out of your visit to the neighborhood.

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The Bern Old Town: Shopping and cultural experiences of a special kind

MD Staff

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The Bernese love laid-back, hour-long shopping trips – and will do so in any weather. Thanks to the longest weather-protected stretch of shopping promenade in Europe, this is in fact quite feasible. The arcades are admirably suited for a jaunty stroll among the historic city scenery.

It is in the Bernese Old Town in particular where one can be witness to the unique historical ambiance and combine shopping with a journey through time into the past.

The Kramgasse forms the centerpiece of the Bern Old Town. This alley was once Bern’s busiest trade route for marketers and shopkeepers who loudly advertised and sold their goods here, and swapped the latest news. The six kilometer long series of arcades form a distinctive feature of the Old Town. The history of this arcade passage reaches back to the earliest city development (1191), and even then served to accommodate market stalls and businesses. Traders could thus trade and earn their living in any weather.

The Bernese also demonstrated their practical sense in putting the nether regions to good use. They built vaulted cellars under every house in order to be able to store their goods. Nowadays, entirely different treasures are hidden in these cellars. Descend the steep stone steps, and find yourself in a different world. The underground reveals trendy and traditional bars, clubs, theatres, cellar cinemas and special fashion shops. There’s no other place that offers such historic settings for a shopping excursion!

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Destination Langkawi: Beyond the Beaches

MD Staff

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With 550-million years of geological history and generations of mythical folklore, there is always something new for guests of Four Seasons Resort Langkawi to uncover on the island.

A paradise of panoramas, the Langkawi archipelago is an amalgam of mangroves and mountains, rainforests and rivers, wildlife and waterfalls, legends and local charm, tidal flats and coral reefs, cliffs and caves. Whether appreciated from the vantage point of a bike, kayak, boat, cable car, sky-bridge or simply on foot, the islands’ thrilling topography ensures a truly breathtaking backdrop for myriad magical and memorable encounters.

Water Worlds

Beyond the beaches, water sports and diving, Langkawi offers visitors rainforests, mangrove “sea forests,” cascading waterfalls, hidden lakes and glistening paddy fields to explore.

Outdoor enthusiasts will be spoiled for choice.  The uninhabited islet of Pulau Langgun offers an exhilarating rainforest immersion and lush wilderness trek to the hidden sanctuary of Tasik Langgun, a large freshwater lake.  Build an appetite biking through paddy fields to Durian Perangin Waterfall – 14-tiers of clear cascading water – perfect for a refreshing dip and picnic.  Or visit the island’s tallest waterfall, Temurun (30 metres or 98 feet), for another scenic natural swimming pool.

A mangrove kayak get guests unobtrusively close to the magic and mystery of forests that straddle land and sea. Traverse small, dense tributaries and follow the natural ebb and flow of this fascinating ecosystem to uncover hidden delights behind each corner. Alternatively, take a coastal kayak along the emerald seascapes of Langkawi’s less explored eastern rim, and paddle through a 15 metre (49 foot) cave tunnel for an unforgettable swim in a salt-water lake.

Mineral and Mystical  

Steeped in geological heritage, Langkawi has some of the world’s oldest and most intriguing naturally formed gems.  Shaped by plate tectonics, volcanic activity, ocean submersion and erosion, Langkawi’s many rock formations have evolved over millennia into exciting natural habitats, many animated by fantastical folklores and legends.

Adrenalin seekers can heed the call of the ancient limestone cliffs for an afternoon of rock-climbing and abseiling within the Resort’s grounds. Just a short distance away, the Langkawi Sky Bridge – suspended 700 metres (2,300 feet) above sea level and accessed via the world’s steepest cable car – offers an up close experience of Malaysia’s oldest rocks (the Machinchang Formation), not to mention far-reaching views extending to southern Thailand.

Fuel for the imagination, Langkawi’s craggy coastline of hidden coves, sunken caves and majestic peaks is straight out of a fairytale and sets the scene for a magical adventure. The intriguing Gua Cerita (Cave of Legends) is the mythical home of a giant phoenix, a captive princess and a deadly giantess. Tasik Dayang Bunting (Lake of the Pregnant Lady) was formed when a huge limestone cave collapsed, resulting in a figure resembling a pregnant woman lying on her back. Locals believe that the lake, famed for the legend of celestial princess Mambang Sari, possesses mystical powers.

Back at the Resort, Spa devotees will be entranced by the element-based offerings at the Geo Spa, where the ancient healing energies of the Geopark meet bespoke natural treatments by ila.

Wildlife and Local Life

A bird watcher’s paradise – the open rainforest corridor, mist-covered Gunung Raya peak, and local village ponds provide the opportunity for ornithologists to tick a fair few flying friends off their must see list. Langkawi is home to approximately 200 species including: flower peckers, hills mynas, dollar birds, sun birds, eagles, woodpeckers, lesser whistling-ducks, little egrets, Chinese pond herons, striated swallows and the largest of them all, the great hornbill, measuring in at 1.3 metres (more than 4 feet).

Animal lovers will not want to miss the mangrove boat safari into the Kilim Karst Geoforest Park and its maze of meandering mangroves for exciting up-close encounters with majestic eagles and kites, mischievous macaques, fish that walk (mudskippers), colourful fiddler crabs, shy otters and sleeping bats.

Cultural connoisseurs will be enthralled by the Malaysian book village of Kampung Buku and the bucolic beauty of stilted wooden houses in local villages. A visit to the fishermen’s village of Kuala Teriang enables visitors to quietly observe fisherfolk return with their day’s catch, or sample delicious deep-fried banana fritters with local milk tea at wooden roadside stalls. Back at the Resort, relish local spices and ingredients during a Malay-cuisine cooking class – available as both adult and child-size experiences.

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