Bigger and Smarter: Expanding metro rail networks

Expanding metro rail networks

Given the ever-increasing volumes of traffic in Indian cities, a well-planned urban transport system assumes vital importance. To this end, metro rail systems in the country have made significant progress, having grown from 90 km in 2006 to an operational network of 490 km at present.

Moreover, state-of-the-art technologies are being deployed in order to enhance the efficiency and reliability of metro rail systems, and thereby, improve passenger experience. Gradually, metro systems are transitioning from semi-automatic to unattended/driverless train operations. Most of the upcoming systems have plans to deploy the highest grades of signalling and several systems are also exploring the deployment of advanced fare payment systems.

Network size and growth

Between 2006 and 2018 (July), around 398 km of length was added to the country’s metro rail network. Of the total operational length of 490 km, around 80 per cent is of the Delhi, Bengaluru and Chennai metro systems. Over the past year, network addition has come from projects such as the Hyderabad metro, Pink and Magenta Lines under Phase III of the Delhi metro, the Kochi metro and the Lucknow metro.

In addition, around 629 km of metro rail projects are under construction in various cities. More than 350 km of new construction is expected to be operationalised within the next few years as more and more cities are planning for expansion or new construction of metro rail projects.

Technology penetration on the rise

Rolling stock

For India’s earliest metro systems – the Kolkata metro and Delhi metro, Phase I – broad gauge coaches were deployed in order to allow interoperability with the railways. However, in 2006, Phase II of the Delhi metro marked the transition of Indian metro systems to standard gauge coaches. Being the international norm for metro systems, standard gauge coaches offer several inherent advantages such as lower energy consumption and lower noise levels.

From 2006 onwards, most of the ongoing and planned metro projects have been designed to use standard gauge systems. This shift paved the way for many foreign players to enter the Indian rolling stock market.

Signalling and telecommunication

The nature of signalling and telecommunication (S&T) systems has evolved over time. While the Kolkata metro ran on absolute signalling systems, the Delhi metro became the first to deploy continuous automatic train control (ATC) signalling systems with automatic train operation (ATO) and automatic train protection (ATP) features to the Indian metro rail sector. After ATC came communication-based train control (CBTC), which is designed to provide immediate status updates and control to avoid accidents in unforeseen circumstances such as sudden breakdowns or power loss. CBTC has been deployed in several metro systems across the country – Hyderabad metro, Kochi metro, Delhi metro (Phase III), etc. The latest technologies being used include driverless train operations and unattended train operation using CBTC signalling with moving block technology, instead of fixed block technology. The Delhi and Kochi metros are experimenting with driverless train operations.

With the objective of enhancing the reliability of S&T systems, various measures have been taken. These include progressive upgradation of signalling systems by deploying electronic interlocking with centralised operation of points and signals, multicoloured LED signals, and complete track-circuiting of stations. New technologies such as train management systems, train protection warning systems and train collision avoidance systems have been introduced to provide automatic train protection. For effective telecommunications, global positioning system-based mobile train radio communication systems have been introduced.

Fare collection systems

As is the case with other urban rail segments, technology penetration in the automatic fare collection (AFC) segment has also deepened. Digitalisation has been a key focus area among metro corporations for ensuring faster transit. Metro corporations in Nagpur and Chennai are coming out with smart mobility cards for enabling cashless transactions. In a bid to promote cashless payment options, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation plans to upgrade the existing AFC system to enable payment through Europay, MasterCard and Visa and RuPay-based open-loop ticketing. With regard to system technologies, several metro corporations are planning to integrate multimodal transport systems through a common payment platform to ensure hassle-free last-mile connectivity.

The way forward

Despite the rapid expansion of metro systems across the country, some problem areas related to financing and land acquisition still remain. To promote private participation in the sector, the government introduced the new Metro Rail Policy in August 2017. Further, in order to encourage innovation in the sector, I-Metro, an association of all Indian metro rail companies, was set up. It aims to provide a forum for exchange of ideas, pooling of knowledge and sharing of best practices amongst the different metro rail corporations. Together with a strong pipeline of projects, these measures ensure a positive outlook for the metro rail sector in the country.