Food Stalls At MRTS stations: Fact or Fantasy?

CHENNAI, Aug 12, 2015: Neha Christina, a Tata Consultancy Services employee, hurries along the darkened length of the Thiruvanmiyur railway station, glancing furtively at the deep hollows and quickening her pace to get to the ticket counter at the opposite end of the mammoth station.

Desolate MRTS stations at 2 pm
Vast empty spaces at the Thiruvanmiyur MRTS station

It is two in the afternoon. “I don’t feel safe,” she says.

With just one guard present, security has often been an issue at the massive Mass Rapid Transit Systems stations, which has had numerous incidents of chain snatching, pickpocketing and molestation.

Hoping that the presence of commercial outlets would alleviate the deserted feel of the stations, Railway authorities floated tenders for food stalls  at the Thiruvanmiyur, Velachery and Tirumalai MRTS stations as early as 2009 and then again in 2014.

While the Egmore, Park and Beach stations already see brisk business at their food plazas, the proposed stations still lie empty.

“Somebody has come and seen the place, but we don’t know any details yet. They don’t tell us anything,” said R. Swaminathan, senior commercial clerk at the station. Thiruvanmiyur station sees 9,000 – 10,000 commuters a day, and the nearest eatery is a good 15 minutes away. Food stalls, say staff, will benefit everyone.

K. Suresh Chandra, DGM (Catering), IRCTC said that the initial idea was to set up large food plazas but the high licence rates saw no bidders; the 2304 sq. ft area available in Thiruvanmiyur for example, cost Rs. 77.89 lakhs due to it being a prime area.

The deserted Thiruvanmiyur MRTS station at 2 pm
Stations have deep hollows that are vulnerable to crime

“At Thiruvanmiyur and Thirumailai stations the plan has now been changed to set up fast food units instead which can operate within just 400 sq. ft.” he said, adding that rates would be much lower.

These would be run by well-known brands  for five years at a stretch, and could tie up with other eateries to provide a complete meal. However, it would only act as a warming unit, with the base kitchen elsewhere.

The revised fast food tenders would be out by the last week of August. He added, “If this venture is a success, we will look to expand in other stations too”.

Amenities are non-existent at these stations
Amenities are non-existent at these stations

While the IRCTC is responsible for food stalls, the final say in setting up other commercial activities lies with the Southern Railways.

“Tenders floated for parking lots have also miserably failed because of the topography,” said K. Sankara Subramanian, Divisional Commercial Manager II, Southern Railways, citing the presence of slums, huge mounds of garbage and scores of insects made it an undesirable locale.

He lamented that the MRTS stations were built along the sides of “a big drain” – the Buckingham Canal – and added that they were not designed practically, remarking, “All the MRTS stations are over designed.”

Impromptu food stalls at the Subway connecting Chennai Central railway station and Park station
Impromptu food and commercial stalls at the Subway connecting Chennai Central railway station and Park station

He explained that while the ground floor of the MRTS stations could be utilised by the Southern Railways for parking and food stalls, major projects like developing a shopping complex lay under the purview of State government.

R. Anandan, who works with electrical maintenance at Ascendas IT Park, evinced interest in setting up a food stall at the Thiruvanmiyur station as a joint venture, as it was frequented by those working in IT companies close by.

Neha Christina said, “I would definitely feel more secure if some stalls were set up” and suggested setting up a grocery store, as there were none nearby.

R. Rajini, a student, suggested that an outlet that served  quick items like snacks and juice would have a lot of demand from commuters.

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