On the Fast Track
BY Mitalee Kurdekar
If one chronicles the journey of metro rail projects in India, it surely would make for an interesting read. For starters, it is difficult to believe that while the idea for a modern metro rail system was initially discussed more than 60 years ago, the country had to wait for the next two decades for the Kolkata (then Calcutta) Metro project to be conceived. In 1971, a master plan was prepared and the first stretch of 3.4kms was completed in 1984. Gradually, other stretches were completed. But that is all in the past now.
Since then, the country’s metro landscape is fast developing. In fact, the real impetus to the Indian metro rail story was provided by the resounding success of the Delhi Metro. To construct a metro rail system in a congested metropolis like Delhi, thereby connecting remote regions of the city, was a herculean task in itself. However, the enormous benefits enjoyed by the population that the system serves is testimony to the impact that a modern mass rapid transportation system has on urban development objectives such as creating world class infrastructure, supporting industrialisation in far-flung areas and generating employment, while reducing undue loads on core, urban areas. Therefore, it was no surprise then that many other cities and towns of India expressed interest to follow suit and have efficient metro rail systems of their own.
As a result, close to 425kms of metro rail network is currently operational in 10 Indian cities, with the number expected to cross 600kms soon. Also, the past three years have seen the allocated amount for metro rail projects in the Union Budget at Rs 15,327 crore in FY17, Rs 18,000 crore in FY 18, and Rs 15,000 crore in FY 19.
In order to make an efficient allocation of scarce resources and to support learning from success stories, the Ministry of Urban Development has issued guidelines based on criteria like population cut-off, passenger load factors and financing sustainability, etc. for new projects.
Technology to the Rescue
Of course, given the urgent need for better transportation services, the speed of implementation is the most imperative objective for metro rail systems in India. Of course, the governments involved too are unwilling to delay such infrastructure projects in the current environment where there is so much scrutiny from various stakeholders, including an expectant public. Affordability of cost, which is an important parameter in evaluating the long-term viability of such projects, also calls for the use of appropriate and top-end technology for metro rail projects, and that is why many global technology and solution providers have shown strong interest in Indian metro rail ventures.
As AK Garg, executive director (electrical), Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, suggests, “Given that the expectation is now to build metros within the shortest possible time, we look for technologies/processes where the construction period can be cut down. Efforts are made to see that major work is done at the factory itself, so that minimum activity is needed on site. Modular construction with easy assembly is preferred. We have used the highest level of automation, so that human intervention is minimal, in order to avoid accidents/failures etc.”
On the other hand, Rapid Metro, which is a Mass Rapid Transit System (MRTS) being developed for the city of Gurugram, is the only fully privately-owned metro in India. IL&FS Rail has executed this project by way of a PPP model, and has a concession agreement with HUDA, an agency of the Government of Haryana.
Dilip Jadeja, VP, rolling stock, electrical and business development, IL&FS Rail, suggests that there are many technological options available for MRTS, but rail-based systems are more popular. He points out that, “The technological needs and sizing of MRT systems largely depends on local factors like population of the city, ridership projections, demography and congestion, accessibility, affordability, growth potential of the city, etc. It is important that the selection of a system is such that it is optimal on cost, easy to install, expandable and has lower operations and maintenance costs. Ultimately, the MRTS must address the present and future transportation needs of the city, act as a catalyst in the development of the city, and also be self-sustainable.”
Digitalisation in manufacturing technology is one of the latest interventions in the rail system manufacturing space. Sudhir Rao, MD, India, Bombardier Transportation, explains, “Digital technologies are revolutionising many industries. Today, the production of expensive, advanced models can be greatly improved by using virtual test runs. This way, the development and installation steps can be accelerated, optimised or done away with entirely. We ensure product quality meets customer needs by developing standardised methodology and tools across the global organisation. We can view the developed vehicle on high resolution ‘powerwalls’ – and even touch it. This innovative technology enables our team to make considerably more precise and quicker decisions in real time and in different locations around the globe. Now, virtual manufacturing allows designers to create a 3D model of a product, and to also virtually test the efficiency of its performance.”
Maharashtra Metro Rail Corporation (Maha Metro) has been entrusted with the task of implementing all metro rail projects within Maharashtra that fall outside the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, and is currently implementing metro rail projects in two prime cities – Nagpur and Pune. Known for the importance he affords to technology, Dr Brijesh Dixit, MD, Maharashtra Metro Rail Corporation, suggests, “At Maha Metro, we have implemented 5D BIM to automate its project management processes by integrating four major software programmes (Bentley, Oracle, SAP and RIB). With this platform, we are able to get insights into various intricacies in the design, construction, and handing over stages, which is enabling us to take the right decisions on time, something that otherwise would not have been possible.”
The constant focus on passenger amenities and environment improvement objectives in modern metro rail systems and associated projects have come to be a welcome feature for the benefit of the ultimate users. Dixit points out various features being implemented across Maha Metro projects, when he explains, “Maha Metro has gone in for multi-modal integration, as well as efficient & high-quality feeder service to provide first- and last-mile connectivity.”
Rajaji Meshram, director, infrastructure, government and healthcare services, KPMG Advisory Services, India, makes a case for differential pricing, stating, “DMRC has attempted to increase the footfall and improve assets’ utilisation during off-peak hours by offering 20% discount to card holders. Further, communication-based train control is being introduced, which allows for driverless train movement and can permit the headways to be as low as 90 seconds, thus reducing the requirement of rolling stock.”
Dr VK Gahlot, urban transport engineer, Public Works Department, Government of Rajasthan, proclaims, “All stakeholders in projects are trying hard to provide customer-friendly transit solutions. Besides infrastructure requirements, ticketing is being given due patronage in planning, to provide customers’ mobility as a service (MaaS). Mobile-based ticketing and engagement of passengers with transit incentive schemes are inevitable solutions before the metro industry.”
Speaking of innovative solutions, Maha-Metro is also integrating solar energy generation right from the project planning and design stage, in order to meet 65% of its energy requirements, making it one of the greenest metro rail projects. Also, they have signed an MoU with DRDO for an anaerobic bio digester to ensure 100% water recycling and smart sewage treatment. Maha-Metro is said to be the first in India to adopt this technology with an objective of maintaining an eco-friendly, clean environment, and making use of organic waste & waste water.
In fact, Ashish Tandon, MD, Egis in India, believes, “Metros will positively impact the economy in two ways – firstly, they would reduce the dependence on fossil fuels for transportation, and thereby reduce the huge import costs incurred by the country; and, secondly, they would also usher in an era of more sustainable and eco-friendly mass transportation.”
Innovative Financing Models
Despite all the benefits, there is no doubt that metro rail projects are highly capital intensive. Thus, operators have to ensure that not only are the resources invested productively, but also that appropriate financing models are employed to make projects viable in the long-term. As a result, the evaluation stage is as critical as the planning and implementation stages for such projects. Apart from considering Public Private Partnership (PPP) models and seeking financial assistance from agencies in developed economies, operators are exploring innovative ideas of financing recent projects.
Meshram points out, “The proposal to increase the stamp duty by 1% in the Nagpur metro rail corridor has been approved. This is a good practise for funding metro projects in India. Similarly, the innovative funding approach employed by Bangalore Metro involves signing MoUs with Intel and Embassy Group for infrastructure development.”
Dixit professes, “To make Maha Metro financially viable in the long-run, we aim to develop and exploit a total area of 60 lakh sq-ft at Nagpur for commercial (60%) & residential (40%) purposes. We will achieve over 50% revenue from non-fare box sources.”
Operators are also considering operational costs while evaluating projects. Mahendra Kumar, director (rolling stock & systems), Lucknow Metro Rail Corporation, points out, “Regenerative braking has been used in the trains, which regenerates about 30-35% of traction energy. LED lights have been used at all the stations to optimise the energy consumption. Completion of the project in the defined time is one of the ingredients to control the cost.”
In addition, Make in India efforts are helping to service local projects. Bombardier is the first foreign multi-national company to set up a wholly-owned railway vehicle manufacturing facility in India. Rao declares that, “India is one of the high-priority markets for Bombardier Transportation. We have placed a strong focus on delivering projects for the Indian and export market, enhancing our engineering and industrial footprint, enhancing skills of local talent and increasing our local content to continue delivering on the government’s Make in India initiative.”
Tandon ends on an optimistic note by saying, “As India and Indians are going global, there is a transition towards quality consciousness. There is now a willingness to pay for quality and services. That is probably the reason why we are seeing better technologies like driverless metros being introduced. If this trend continues, which I feel it will, India will have the best technology for metros, which is at par with the best in the world.”
And that does sound like a digital dream that is worth fast-tracking.