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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