Mangal Dev, Head of Hitachi Rail Systems Co, India & South Asia Region feels that inadequate attention to planning, availability of funding and the need to expand the availability of skilled manpower are key challenges facing the metro rail projects in India. Dev also calls upon urban planners to seriously consider the tramway as a sustainable mode of mass transportation in upcoming cities.
What is your view of the Indian metro rail market from Hitachi's perspective?
Hitachi has been looking at the Indian metro rail market for a fairly long time. Since the country has a very large urban population, a strong urban transportation system is an absolute necessity. We have been studying the requirements of different metros, primarily in big tier-1 cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru and Kolkata. These are the places that need multiple metro corridors crisscrossing the city and an integrated solution to connect the metro rail with all the other modes of transport. Our group company, Ansaldo Signalling and Transportation Systems (Ansaldo STS), which we acquired three years ago, is already engaged in the Indian market. It offers signalling and turnkey execution for metro rail projects. Ansaldo STS is also delivering projects as a lead contractor on a turnkey basis in the Navi Mumbai Metro project. This involves the integration of signalling and telecom, track work, power supply, rolling stock and fare collection systems. Perhaps, it is the only project of its kind in India offering such holistic service. Wherever Ansaldo STS has projects, such as the under-construction Noida Metro, where we are implementing communication-based train control (CBTC) system, we want to go one step ahead and integrate Hitachi rolling stock and signalling to offer a strategic partnership to our customers.
What is the rationale behind your strategy of focusing only on tier-I cities?
All cities are interesting for us. But we will proceed in steps. Our first step is to look at tier-1 cities because they are the ones where we can amortise our investment. Even tier-2 cities have come to realise that just adding one or two corridors is not going to give the desired benefit. Therefore, states are bringing different cities under one umbrella. For example, in Maharashtra, other than Mumbai and Navi Mumbai, the state government has created Maha Metro to take care of cities such as Nagpur, Pune, Sholapur, Aurangabad, etc. We want to have a long-term association with our customers because we offer value on the entire lifecycle of our projects. Therefore, we seek to first focus on tier-1 cities and once we consolidate our status there, then move to tier-2 cities.
What are the solutions that you are implementing in your ongoing projects?
Hitachi has been active in the area of operational technologies for over 100 years and information and communication technology for over 50 years. We have now brought together the knowledge acquired in these domains and in IT to move to the next era of the internet of things (IoT). IoT can provide you with plenty of insights into your machinery, operations and equipment behaviour to enable utilisation of domain knowledge and IT to address a lot of points. For example, we can do face recognition from the CCTV footage captured at different platforms at a metro station with the data available in the system. This can be very useful in identifying rogue elements and alerting the operator and controller to take prompt action. We also use this technology to map passenger flow on particular platforms and then utilise this knowledge using our Lumada IoT solution to predict human behaviour to accordingly redesign the platforms. Also, as more and more passengers are using smartphones, we can communicate with them to direct them to the right coach or train so that the flow is maintained and trains are fully occupied. Therefore, it no longer concerns security and safety alone, but also includes increasing the passenger capacity and revenue for the operator.
What are the challenges being faced by metro projects in the country?
The first biggest challenge lies in the planning phase of a project. It involves not only time-based planning but also availability and acquisition of land for the project. If project planners prepare the detailed project report (DPR) and feasibility study keeping this in mind, project execution gets simplified. However, if the planning is inadequate then your execution period will get prolonged. Once a project is announced, the metro operator is in a hurry to operationalise the system. But they have to realise that the planning has to be meticulous for faster execution. The second area is funding. The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) is encouraging all cities to look at other modes of transport. If your passenger traffic is insufficient to meet the requirement of a big metro project, then you need to have a lower capacity system so that it remains viable to attract funding. Third- and this is more of a global challenge - is skilling, be it in construction, civil and electrical engineering, signalling or manufacturing of trains in a factory. Work pertaining to design development and engineering can be done in India, provided we are able to expand the local availability of skilled manpower, as a train is a very sophisticated equipment integrating several technologies.
Do metro projects require other modes of transport to deliver their full potential?
In cities that have successfully implemented a seamless urban transport system, multiple types of systems work in unison. For example, if you take the Tokyo Metropolitan region, there is Japan Rail (JR), high-speed railway, the suburban railway and monorail connectivity in close proximity. I might be asking for too much; however, if one entity becomes responsible for implementation, operation and maintenance of all the systems, and its jurisdiction is planned in such a way that it is also responsible for planning as well as execution, it might be an absolute game changer in the Indian context. Since we have multiple agencies, it is often cumbersome for a metro authority to coordinate with so many of them. Take ticketing system, for instance.
For a commuter to seamlessly travel from one point to another, it is important that the different modes of transport are well-integrated. Moreover, the commuter should be able to utilise a single ticket for all means of transport. One such project is being conceived in Greater Mumbai.
How do you see the metro rail space evolve in the country?
I will address this question a little differently. Every city has its own needs and has to opt for a transport system that fulfils them in all aspects such as alignment, capacity, funding and cultural uniqueness. One area that has not been seriously looked at for Indian cities - and perhaps the planners are somewhat unprepared to tackle - is the implementation of the modern tramway system. It is one of the most economical, energy-efficient and green transportation systems. This can be done at least in the new cities as it will be easier to integrate it there and then create a kind of benchmark so that people do not end up equating it with the one in Kolkata, which for certain specific reasons has not been very successful.
Long ago, Delhi and Mumbai used to have tramways, which were phased out. The suggestion might make sense for upcoming cities such as Naya Raipur and Amravati, but do our other cities have the capacity to accommodate one more urban transport system?
It requires a detailed feasibility study. Prima facie, when there are so many vehicles in Delhi city and there is no place for people to even walk, the first impression that one gets is that there is a complete lack of space. However, it is the urban planners who need to accord priority to a mode of transport. If they consider the tramway as an important mass transport system, it must be accorded the first priority. The second priority must be given to pedestrians and the last priority to car owners. Therefore, it is a question of determining the importance and then making the first move in implementing the solution. A visionary blueprint of between 20 and 30 years will need to be created to balance a city's needs and assets. Assuming that certain areas of the city will be exclusively earmarked for the tramway, the entire road space can be utilised for its operation. Political parties can make it a part of their election manifesto and get the stakeholder buy-in. This is how it was done in Europe. City mayors took up the challenge and went about educating citizens. Otherwise, looking at us today, the congestion in our cities will only go from bad to worse. In order to make a real change, we have to work together. And that again boils down to effective project planning.
- Manish Pant