Chennai’s Concrete Super Highway In The Sky

Every morning I have to take the train to south Chennai. The Mass Rapid Transit System, or MRTS as it’s known, is a marvel in concrete. Soviet Russia style concrete monolithic stations are dotted every few KM and are so brutal in design, it would make Joseph Stalin himself give a nod of approval. Rather surprisingly, it’s also a triumph of punctuality and reliabilty too, something Network Rail would do well to study. Trains that actually run on time? How can it be?! The MRTS gets a lot of flack from the media and the local population but actually I think it’s pretty bloody fantastic for what it is.

Since the elevated track runs along about 4 stories high, the plan was to use the first level of the stations as a car park for commuters and the 2nd and 3rd level as huge shopping malls, like the big stations of London. That was the plan. 10 years later and many of the stations still resemble building sites with scaffolding and construction detritus littered around the platforms. Where the thriving shops were supposed to be are instead cavernous halls, serving as shelter to dogs, goats and the occasional cow, the odd homeless person and not to mention a place for hapless souls to drink away their troubles in the cold darkness.

This photo shows the station where I catch my train. If you turn up before 8:30am then the platform is virtually empty like it is here and the journey is relatively pleasant. After 8:30am is when Chennai goes to work and 6m people mobilize at once…the journey is then pretty far from pleasant!

Chennai MRTS station

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