Thursday, May 25, 2006

Mumbai Metro Rail - a definitive start

Important newsflow over the last one week definitively flags off work on the the Versova-Ghatkopar phase of the Mumbai Metro Rail Project. This post has been collated from the above newsflow, which can also be found on my tag on MumbaiMetroRail. (My earlier posts on the Mumbai Metro are here, here and here.)

1. Reliance Energy bags the contract for Phase I of the Mumbai Metro Rail

The Maharashtra Government has formally awarded the contract for Phase I of the Mumbai Metro to Reliance Energy Limited whose other partners in the project include Connex (France) and MRT (Hong Kong).

This follows resolution of a dispute between both partners over viability gap funding. After awarding the contract to REL, MMRDA Chairman T Chandrashekhar, stated that "REL expected a rate of return at 26 per cent but we convinced them that nowhere in the world was there such a rate of return on public transport. Accordingly, the consortium agreed on 15 per cent rate of returns".

The agreed-upon viability gap funding now stands at the MMRDA number of Rs650crores. 20% (or Rs130crores) of this will be contributed by the Central Govt. and the balance by the Maharashtra State Govt.

What will follow soon is the formation of a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) between MMRDA and REL who will enter into an agreement for a period of 35 years and implement the project on a Build-Own-Operate-Transfer.

The Prime Minster, Dr. Manmohan Singh will lay the foundation stone for the project in July and work on the project will begin in October. Commuters will set their feet on the train – hopefully – by Dec-2009, which is equipped to carry 60,000 passengers in each direction every hour.

2. The Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar corridor

As posted earlier, this is the first corridor of the Mumbai Metro Rail project. It is all of 11km long and forms one of the most congested parts in terms of traffic in the city (statistic of the day from our Chief Minister – “The metro rail has been conceived to attract Mumbaikars to use public transport rather than private mode of transport. While there was only 2.3 times increase in the carrying capacity of the suburban rail transport, the increase in suburban rail traffic went up by six times.”)

The elevated route to be built on this leg aims at cutting down travel time by 70% from 70 minutes to 21 minutes. This route will have 12 railway stations, i.e. 1. Versova, 2. D. N. Nagar, 3. Azad Nagar, 4. Andheri, 5. Western Express Highway, 6. Chakala, 7. International Airport 8. Marol Naka 9. Subash Nagar 10. Subhash Nagar 11. Asalpha Road and 12. Ghatkopar.

3. The fares

8km and above – Rs10

3-8km – Rs8

Less than 3km – Rs6

However today's Indian Express also notes that this length will also be India’s costliest transport link with a cost of Rs214crore per kilometre (or Rs2,356 crores- the cost of this corridor, divided by 11km, the length).

4. Standard gauge over broad gauge

(this from today’s Indian Express Mumbai Newsline – link currently not available).

The State Government has chosen standard gauge, over the broad gauge which was recommended by the Indian Railways.

The Chief Minister’s rationale is that “Standard gauge technology is widely used globally and suits Mumbai because it will require 21 less land acquisitions. Broad gauge would have required a special new design”.

The Indian Railways rationale was that broad gauge is the standard nationwide and enjoys 20% greater passenger capacity. For example – the nine-coach Mumbai local trains, which run on broad gauge have a capacity of 3,500 passengers which would be reduced to 2,800 passengers had standard gauge been chosen. Note that even in case of the Bangalore Metro, the Indian Railways had pushed for broad gauge, while the state government was in favour of broad gauge.

5. Concerns

Don’t think that everyone’s happy with the Mumbai Metro. This article, by Harish Rao, lists the dissenters.

Mr. B. Rajaram, M.D. of Konkan Railway Corp is among its vocal critics. Besides questioning how the cost of the Metro came down from Rs30,000crore to Rs20,000crores, he also states “Both elevated transport system and metro railway system are obsolete technologies. The future technology is sky bus technology. A sky bus project costs just Rs 5,000 crore for 100 km. And it can be completed in three-four years. The entire project can be completed in 1/4th of the cost envisaged and that too without any government support.”

Mr. Debi Goenka of the Bombay Environment Action Group states “The government is dragging its feet on the sky bus project for trivial reasons. In case of sky bus it costs Rs40 crore per km whereas in case of Metro project the cost is Rs130 crore per km.” He also believes that “Mumbai's transport problem could be solved by revamping the existing system itself. Instead of going for MUTP-III and MUTP-IV, now an expensive metro railway project is being planned. There is scope for improving the existing services.”

Finally, city planner Chandrashekhar Prabhu believes that the Colaba-Charkop phase should have been implemented first. “Over five million commuters use the public transport system in Mumbai. And the major load of it is on the north-south corridor. Commuters travel from the northern suburbs to south Mumbai, the city's commercial hub. Implementing the first phase of the Mumbai metro network on the east-west corridor will not solve the city's transport problems."

So after all the delay, this project which was 30 years in the making has finally kicked off. With so much done, there is reason to believe that the project will see the light of day. This blogger now waits with bated breath to see Dr. Singh lay the foundation stone. As always, I remain high on hope.

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Sunday, May 21, 2006

Bombay Bloggers Meet - loads of fun

"Driving into Infiniti Mall, Versova for my first bloggers meet, my mind was full of random thoughts. Will it be fun (beyond anything I’d thought), will there be pretty women (yes), will there be young nerds and geeks (yes), is Bipasha Basu really coming as our mystery guest (no), is food and daaru on the house (no).…and before I knew it I was staring at this big table in the middle of the place full of conversations, writing, yelling, laughing, talking. Fun. This had to be it. Bombay bloggers rock and how." [more here]

Can't wait for next time.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Mumbai Metro Rail - lift-off, finally

The above picture is from this link that belongs to Urbanrail.

After initially disagreeing with the MMRDA over the issue of viability gap funding of the Versova-Ghatkopar leg (the light green line in the map above) of the Mumbai Metro Rail , the Reliance Energy-Connex-MTR consortium has agreed to a figure of Rs650crore for the VGF amount, in line with MMRDA.

What next? REL should get the contract for this phase of the Metro, after which the MMRDA and REL will float a special purpose vehicle, in which REL will hold 74% and MMRDA the balance 24%.

Finally, work on the project is expected to commence in October this year. I'm waiting with bated breath.

For the MMRDA executive study on the Versova-Ghatkopar Mass Rapid Transport System (note this leg of the Metro will be elevated), click here.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Mumbai Metro work stalled

And just when I started hoping for the Mumbai Metro, something like this happens. (Tip courtesy: Vivz and his Mumbai_Metro Yahoo Group).

Summary - The Reliance Energy-led consortium has sought Government subsidy of Rs1,251crore as against the MMRDA's estimated viability gap of Rs600crores. Thanks to this "difference in opinion", the project has been delayed till the month-end. Or just about before the rains come in. I just hope that this issue does not go into litigation, the way REL's airport privatisation plans did.

The article also adds that our Chief Minister, Mr. Vilasrao Deshmukh, is planning a trip to Japan to seek help from the Japan Bank for International Co-operation for the Mumbai Metro. Note that the JBIC has also funded the Delhi Metro.

Hope continues unabated.

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Monday, May 01, 2006

Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (a.k.a. the missing link)

Two road projects promise to change the face of the city. The first is the Western Freeway Sealink linking up Bandra-Worli-Nariman Point and the second is the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL). However, unlike the BWSL, where progress is already visible across the Bandra Reclamation skyline, the MTHL is still pretty much on paper.

A cursory reading of the MSRDC’s web page on this, reveals the following

1970 - The idea was originally mooted as the “Mumbai-Uran Communication link”. The first committee appointed to look into this reported in 1972, and the second committee in 1980

1981 – A “steering committee” under Mr. J. R. D. Tata recommended priority of this project to the Govt, and appointed multi-national consultants for a feasibility study. Interestingly enough, it seems, the Govt will also name the bridge after JRD Tata.

1983 - Feasibility report by the consultants prepared

1996 - The project finally gets State Govt approval. MMRDA appoints consultants to update the earlier feasibility study.

2003 - MMRDA asks consultants to update their study to 2004 levels.

2004 – MMRDA floats global tenders

2005 – MMRDA opens a “request-for-quotations” (RFQ) and qualifies three groups of companies.

Phase 1 – Six-lane dual carriage-way linking Sewri to JNPT

Phase 2 – (From 2015 onwards) A double track rail link (Vashi-Kurla) to run parallel to the road link.

Cost – Rs4,000crores for Phase 1 and Rs6,000crores for Phase 2. Total cost – Rs10,000 crores (To put things in perspective, the total Bandra-Worli-Nariman Point Sealink is estimated to cost Rs4,800 crores, which is comparable to Phase I of the MTHL)

Length of the bridge – 22.5km (as against 21kms for the the B-W-NP-SL).

Time for completion – Four years

Current status
MSRDC informs us that environmental clearances (from Ministry of Environmental and Forests) and no-objection certificate from the Archaeological Survey of India have been received. A consortium of international consultants have also been appointed. Three groups of companies have been “pre-qualified” for the Build-Own-Transfer (BOT) operator status. These consortia are

(1) IIMC (consisting of IFFCO India, ITD Thailand, MAEDA Japan and Skanska link)

(2) L&T-Gammon-Sistema

(3) IL&FS – Sea King Infrastructure – John Laing Laing O’Rourke

And finally...
Doubts are already being expressed about the Govt’s capability to fund this project. This article quotes the MSRDC Chairman stating that MSRDC is awaiting the Maharashtra State’s “co-operation”, after which it will invite financial bids from the shortlisted bidders.

Just like the Mumbai metro, this grand project is still on paper, despite work reaching as far as the bidding level. Just like the Mumbai metro, the project's idea is more than 30 years old. And just like the Mumbai Metro, the city needs this link as well.

But my optimism takes the better of me again. The Mumbai Metro recently received a big boost with the Central Govt. saying that it will take care of the viability gap.

Clearly, it is time for both the State and Central Govt to do something about the MTHL. Otherwise, it will remain where it is - a missing link.

PS - For those interested in the flamingoes on Sewri coast, note this ardent group of flamingo-lovers demanding a re-alignment of the proposed MTHL bridge and declaration of the bay as a Bird Sanctuary.