To increase ridership in metro rail network there is a need to develop a comprehensive mobility plan not only for the primary transport system but also for the secondary and tertiary system for first and last-mile connectivity and, therefore, the need for setting up of a unified metropolitan transport authority. By MANGAL DEV
As India plans to scale-up and surge ahead on the economic front, greater emphasis is being given to infrastructure development across the country. A significant part of this key activity revolves around urban mobility and connectivity. With rapid urbanisation happening in the country and millions of people commuting across burgeoning metro cities on a daily basis, pressure is mounting on public transport systems. Mass Rapid Transport System (MRTS) has, therefore, emerged as one of the most effective means of mobility for people in the country's Tier-1, Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities, and Metro rail has been playing a noteworthy role here.
According to the Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs (MoHUA), if urban transport is not planned and developed properly, the average commuting speed in a city will be confined to as low as 6 to 8 kmph by 2030, which is equivalent to the speed of a morning walker. It is also estimated by various studies that 60 per cent of Indians will be living in urban areas by the year 2050. Another issue is the traffic gridlocks and congestion, which result in wastage of manpower, natural energy resources, increased environmental pollution and related health hazards and act as dampeners to economic development.
Taking this into consideration, urban transportation infrastructure in India requires big investment and large-scale upgradation. This could very well be answered and resolved through meticulous planning and implementation of different types of MRTS network, including metro rail and metrolite for achieving multi-modal connectivity. With a modest beginning of 8-km network in 2002, the Delhi Metro has registered phenomenal growth. Today, it is the fourth-largest metro rail network in the world after Shanghai, Beijing and London. Currently, with 678 km of metro rail network being operational, approximately another 60 km of network is likely to be functional in the next few months in the cities of Nagpur and approximately another 284 km of network is likely to be functional by 2021 in the cities of Kolkata, Mumbai, Noida, Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Kochi and Pune.
Over a period, metro rail projects have not only added to connectivity, but also reduced travel time, thus enhancing the ease of living in urban areas quite substantially. They have also led to creation of direct and indirect employment opportunities. Currently, there are 10 operational MRT systems in 10 cities in India with 687 km of operational Metro rail network and 540 stations. As per MoHUA, more than 500 km is under construction across the country. The expansion of local and inter-city railway networks will significantly contribute towards ease in travel, mobility and connectivity in a most environmentally friendly manner.
However, there are a few issues that are affecting the ridership of metro rail in different cities. While metro rail networks may ease road traffic woes to some extent, the efficiency of investments in them remain a matter of debate. For example, the ticket fare charged contributes less than 50 per cent of the total revenue of the Delhi Metro Rail Corp. (DMRC). First and last-mile connectivity is another problem. All our metro rail networks, without exception, have been conceptualised, built and are being run as standalone operations, with little or no linkage to the existing public transport systems (PTS). Which means commuters using metro rail, depend on different means of transportation for last-mile connectivity. Lastly, increase in metro rail fares makes commuting less affordable to the lower and lower middle sections of society.
Metro rail projects require a huge investment outlay which, when directed effectively and efficiently, can maximise the multiplier effect on economic activities. Given the impetus to "Make in India", the government has the opportunity to use these projects to push manufacturing activities in the country. The programme significantly reduces the cost of metro rail projects by localising manufacturing of various equipment, from Electrical Multiple Units (EMUs) to AFC Auto Gates. India has a huge reservoir of talent, manpower and infrastructure required to build cost-efficient metro rail networks, which have become a benchmark technically, economically and environmentally for urban mobility all over the world.
Over a period of time, it has been witnessed that in order to increase ridership in the metro rail network, there is a requirement of development of a comprehensive mobility plan not only for the primary transport system but also for the secondary and tertiary system for first and last-mile connectivity and, therefore, the need for setting up of an unified metropolitan transport authority. There is a requirement to suitably attract qualified contractors and system providers across various metro rail packages like civil and permanent way construction, trains, signalling, Platform Screen Doors (PSDs) and telecommunication, power supply sub-stations & infrastructure, automatic fare collection systems, etc.,to these large project development opportunities.
In the Union Budget 2020, the finance minister proposed and emphasised on enhancing metro rail and railways initiatives. Currently, MRTS proposals are in place for Bhopal, Indore, Noida, Greater Noida, Vijayawada, Amravati, Visakhapatnam, Guwahati, Meerut, Kanpur, Thiruvananthapuram Metro Lite, Chandigarh tri-city and Bhubaneswar Metro Lite. Under-construction and ongoing MRTS are in Lucknow, Greater Noida, Pune, Kochi, Nagpur and Ahmedabad. In most of the cities, except Hyderabad and Gurgaon, metro rail projects are being constructed undera 50:50 special purpose vehicle (SPV) with funds contributed by central and state governments, along with multilateral and bilateral loans. The central government has progressively increased fund allocations for such projects.
MoHUA issued the standards for metro lite in the middle of year 2019. This system is the most viable and sustainable for small cities due to lower construction cost and time as well as lower operations & maintenance costs. Moreover, with the cost of construction for Metrolite being way less compared to a full-fledged metro rail system, the ticket fare is also expected to be priced reasonably.
MoHUA is presently promoting standardisation and indigenisation of future metro rail projects in the country. The ministry has standardised the rolling stock for all future metro rail projects, which incorporates coach width of 3.2 m and 2.9 m and the configuration of trainsets with a set of three, six or nine coaches with power supply of 25kVAC overhead or 750VDC 3rd rail. The uniform standards published also specify the actual speed and design speed of trainsets besides the latest signalling system of Communication Based Train Control (CBTC) and National Common Mobility Card (NCMC)-based EMV/Rupay Ticketing systems. The ministry has also issued advisory to metro rail authorities to procure from qualified domestic manufacturers in order to encourage the "Make in India" initiative.
STANDARDISATION TO LOWER COSTS
The standardisation of products and systems will lower the cost and increase their production in India. The indigenous standards will ensure that the sub-systems for all new metro rail projects conform to the recommended standards, thus incentivising manufacturers to plan for long-term investments in the country and setting up new manufacturing units. This will also reduce the overall cost of the metro rail construction, operations & maintenance.
Hitachi has been an active collaborator and contributor in the Make in India initiative. In a conscious bid to employ local engineering and project management talent and to boost indigenous manufacturing capabilities, the company has sourced and integrated locally manufactured products in the projects, even while ensuring highest quality standards in their execution. Hitachi has been closely following the ambitious expansion plan in rail sector. Since the company has the experience and expertise of nearly 100 years in operations technology and of around 50 years in information and communication technologies (ICT), it is able to add significant value to the rail sector during all the phases from construction to operation & maintenance.
Hitachi has close to 250 railway engineering and management professionals implementing multiple projects across India in the rail sector and has also invested in localisation in terms of signalling equipment and Project Delivery Centres in Delhi NCR and Bengaluru. The interlocking system and multi-section digital axle counter (MSDAC) are now manufactured in India.
Recently, Hitachi successfully implemented the signalling and telecommunication system for the Noida Metro rail project in a record time of 28 months. Hitachi Rail STS India Pvt. Ltd. was awarded the contract, to deliver the CBTC signalling system with Automatic Train Operations (ATO) and the telecommunications system for the entire length of 29.7 km of Aqua Line from Noida Sector 51 to Delta Depot Station in Greater Noida. Other significant projects that Hitachi is associated with include Kolkata Metro East West and Navi Mumbai (CIDCO) Metro.
India is one of the emerging economies which needs to focus on building new infrastructure and meet basic requirements for people from different strata of the society. What is required is a balanced focus on extending transportation infrastructure, as well as leveraging smart technology solutions augmented with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to quickly improve the efficiency and capacity of public transportation, and to create a high-quality MRTS.
With a planned and well-defined structure, MRTS can contribute towards building seamless connectivity from first mile to the last mile to achieve an integrated multi-modal transport system, which will be an important contributor towards achieving the $5 trillion economy target set by the government. Through its Social Innovation Business (SIB) solutions Hitachi is powering good to build a sustainable society.
Mangal Dev is the Head of Hitachi Railway Systems, India & South Asia Region.