In June 2017, India’s metro rail network expanded by around 25 km, with the opening of the Kochi metro Phase I, and the last stretch of the Bengaluru metro (Namma Metro) Phase I, taking the country’s overall metro rail network to around 372 km.
The development of metro rail systems in India has been phenomenal, with the country adding around 290 km from 2006 to date. At present, there are eight operational networks, with Delhi leading the sector in terms of network length. Of the country’s total operational metro network, Delhi accounts for around 60 per cent.
The latest city to operationalise a metro network is Kochi, which opened its Aluva-Palarivattom section in June 2017. The stretch spans 13.26 km with 11 stations, and has reduced the journey time from 45 minutes (by road) to 23 minutes. Alstom has supplied three-car trains for the system.
The project stands out for being the longest first phase and the fastest to be commissioned in the country, completed in only 45 months. Developed by the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, the project is being operated by Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL). Kochi is the first Tier II city to be sanctioned a metro rail project.
The operational section is a part of Kochi metro, Phase I. Upon completion, Phase I will span 25.6 km from Aluva to Potta, covering 23 stations, and is being built at an estimated investment of Rs 51.81 billion. The system will be integrated with planned feeder boat services (known as the Water Metro) from 2019.
In February 2014, KMRL signed a loan agreement with Agence Francaise de Developpement (AFD) for procuring a loan of Rs 15.25 billion at an interest rate of 2 per cent. Of this, Rs 5.3 billion was provided for Phase I while the remaining amount was provided for Phase I extensions. The first instalment of the loan was received in June 2014.
Signalling and fare system: The metro rail project is the first metro project in the country to deploy the communication-based train control (CBTC) signalling system. The technology controls the movement of trains, allowing them to run at higher frequencies and speeds with greater safety. In April 2017, the Kochi metro system received the ISA certificate for the signalling system. About 99 per cent of the braking energy of each train will be fed back into the grid and used by the train that follows.
The fare media comprises open-loop smart cards and radio frequency identification (RFID) devices with quick response codes. This is the first instance when an open-loop smart card based on Europay, MasterCard and Visa is being introduced in a metro system. The card will be integrated with city buses and boats in a phased manner. Further, KMRL has entered into a public-private partnership (PPP) deal with Axis Bank Limited, according to which the bank will undertake the entire investment for the automatic fare collection system. Axis Bank will also pay an additional royalty of Rs 2.09 billion over the next 10 years. In return, the smart cards issued by KMRL will be co-branded with Axis Bank and can be used for cashless transactions as well as ticketing purposes. The cards will be linked with the bank accounts of the users.
Going green: Keeping pace with the best environmental practices, the project is the first metro service in the country which utilises solar power to meet around 25 per cent of its power requirements. Once the entire Phase I is completed, one in every 23 stations will have solar panels, which will generate 2.3 MW of electricity. Further, plans have been announced to construct a 4 MW solar plant, which is expected to meet 50 per cent of the power needs in the near future. Further, the government plans to build a vertical garden at every sixth metro pillar. The metro corporation is also planting saplings on the medians of highways and some pillars between stations, as a part of its Green Kochi Scheme. The metro is also expected to offer bicycles to its commuters for free at every station for passengers to ride around the city.
In the same month as Kochi, Bengaluru’s Namma Metro commenced operations on its 12 km Sampige Road-Yelachenahalli section. The opening marked the completion of Namma Metro, Phase I. The entire Phase I involved the development of two corridors at an investment of Rs 138 billion. The East-West corridor spans 18.1 km from Byappanahalli to the Mysore Road terminal. The North-South corridor spans 24.2 km from Hesaraghatta Cross to Puttenahalli. The combined daily ridership on the two corridors crossed over 300,000 passengers, just two days after the commencement of operations on the entire stretch, thereby indicating the need for development of an efficient metro rail system in the city.
The bigger picture
The metro rail sector in India has also garnered significant attention from the central government. The proposed Metro Rail Policy (currently under formulation) is testimony to this. The new policy framework aims to rekindle private sector participation, facilitate innovative financing, and improve project appraisal procedures, among other key measures. Meanwhile, the centre is promoting greater indigenisation in urban rail projects, in tandem with its Make in India initiative. In addition, norms for project approval are also becoming more stringent, so as to ensure sustainability as well as prudent utilisation of financial resources.
There has been a significant improvement in project uptake between January and June 2017, with over 698 km of urban rail projects receiving approvals from the sate/central government. The recently approved Delhi metro, Phase IV, and Gurgaon-Manesar-Bawal metro projects will alone add over 212 km to India’s metro map.
Currently, projects worth over Rs 2 trillion are under construction, and once completed will add over 600 km in network length. The robust pipeline will offer significant opportunities to a number of stakeholders. However, the sector still remains stymied by a number of challenges. Financing remains a problem area, more so with banks reeling under the pressure from their non-performing loans. Limited private sector participation and limited success of PPP projects has also choked off an important source of funds. Besides, land acquisition, securing clearances, right of way, etc., are some of the pressing concerns of the sector at present.
Nevertheless, some of these problems are expected to be alleviated once the new Metro Rail Policy is executed.