In recent years, the government has been focusing on improving the country’s public transportation system by exploring various alternative transit systems besides conventional metro rail systems. Some of these are personal rapid transit systems, regional rapid transit systems, and hyperloops. Light rail transit (LRT) systems are also among such transit systems, and can significantly aid in resolving the problem of increased traffic congestion and rising pollution levels.
A light rail system can be categorised as a modern tramway system with medium capacity. Such systems are usually segregated from the main carriageway and are either at-grade, fully elevated or a combination of the two. This transportation system is usually efficient and effective where the population is low and therefore the ridership is not very high.
As per the mandate of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, a light rail system is recommended for a region/city where the population does not exceed 1 million (as per Census 2001) and the peak hour peak direction traffic demand is less than 20,000 passengers. It is currently being regulated under the India Tramways Act, 1902.
Features of LRT systems
An LRT system is an electrically propelled system entailing lower investment costs and having low noise and vibration levels. Such systems have a lower axle load of 11-13 tonnes and a maximum speed of around 100 km per hour (kmph), with operating speeds of 40-50 kmph. Such systems entail an investment of around Rs 1.5 billion per km, which is much lower than that for a metro rail system. They also do not require advanced signalling systems and have an additional advantage in that they can be upgraded to conventional metro rail systems at a later stage, in case the ridership increases.
Some other key features of the LRT system are stainless steel or aluminium coaches, closely spaced stations, greater acceleration, sharp road bends of up to 25 metre radius, grade separation (required only in exceptional cases), steep inclines, minimum land requirement, automatic fare collection system, driverless operations, shorter headways, and shorter platform length of 75 metres. It is also an environment-friendly option.
LRT systems in India
So far, there is no operational LRT system in the country, despite the fact that, according to industry experts, such transport systems are well suited to Tier II and Tier III cities.
Currently, a total of nine LRT projects, spanning a length of 351.77 km, are planned to be developed at an estimated investment of Rs 645.81 billion. These systems will be developed in the cities of Bengaluru in Karnataka, Bhopal and Indore in Madhya Pradesh, Dehradun-Haridwar-Rishikesh in Uttarakhand, Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala, Vijayawada and Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, and Ranchi in Jharkhand.
Of these, preliminary works are already under way for the Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram LRT projects while contracts have been issued for the Bhopal and Indore light metro projects. Besides, detailed project reports are being prepared for LRT projects in Bengaluru, Dehradun, Ranchi and Vijayawada and bids have already been issued for developing the Visakhapatnam light metro project.
Meanwhile, the National Highways Authority of India has also proposed the development of a tram rail/LRT system along the Dwarka Expressway in Delhi under a pilot project with a view to ascertain the feasibility of operating a public transport facility along national highways. Besides, in April 2018, Systra MVA Consulting India Private Limited submitted its report to the Chandigarh administration for developing an LRT system in the city. In the report, it has identified three main corridors connecting the tricity of Chandigarh, Mohali and Panchkula for developing a light rail system. Further, the Varanasi Development Authority (VDA) is also considering developing a light rail system in the city, and has appointed RITES Limited to ascertain the feasibility of the project. In June 2018, RITES Limited submitted an inception report to VDA and is currently in the process of preparing a comprehensive mobility plan for the city.
Besides, the central government is also going ahead with promoting light rail systems as an alternative mass rapid transit system in urban areas and is planning to introduce these transport systems in about 50 cities over the next few years. The government is also in the process of preparing standards and guidelines for developing LRT systems, and these are expected to be issued to the nodal authorities soon.
Overall, LRT systems are emerging as a popular mode of transportation across the country due to its low cost, medium capacity and environment-friendly features. It is likely to prove successful in serving Tier II and Tier III cities and will offer vast business opportunities across different segments for private players.