The initial phase of the network comprises two lines totalling 45.1km with 42 stations. The 23.1km Line 1 will link Washermanpet with Anna Salai and Chennai International Airport, with a 14.3km underground section and 8.8km of viaducts. Line 2 will be 22km long, with a 9.7km underground section and 12.3km of viaducts and will connect Chennai Central with St Thomas Mount. The two lines will intersect at Chennai Central and Alandur.

Alstom is supplying a fleet of 42 four-car Metropolis trains for Phase 1 under a €243m contract awarded in 2010. The first nine of the stainless steel-bodied trains were assembled at Alstom's Lapa facility in Brazil before production shifted to the company's Sricity plant in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Each train will accommodate up to 1200 passengers.

Nine of the trains are being used to operate a 10-minute interval service on the initial section of Line 2 between Koyambedu and Alandur between 0500 and 2300.

Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) provided 59% of the funding for the Rs 140bn ($US 2.23bn) first phase of the network, with the state and national governments funding the remainder.