Interview with K.V.B. Reddy: “We need a collaborative approach and greater synergy between various levels of government”

“We need a collaborative approach and greater synergy between various levels of government”

K.V.B. Reddy, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, L&T Metro Rail (Hyderabad) Limited

The urban rail-based transport segment will continue to have strong growth over the next few years. Metro rail network expansion and upgradation is taking place at a much faster pace than earlier. New systems and technologies are being deployed for better passenger experience. The private sector has played a key role in driving this development. The operationalisation of the Hyderabad metro system, one of the world’s largest public-private partnership (PPP) metro rail projects, has marked the beginning of an era of seamless connectivity. In an interview with Indian Infrastructure, K.V.B. Reddy, managing director and chief executive officer, L&T Metro Rail (Hyderabad) Limited (L&TMRHL), shared his views on the urban transport sector…

 

What is your assessment of the progress made in the urban transport sector in the past one year?

Over the past decade, accelerated urbanisation has changed the way India is. Definitely, there is an urgent need for efficient public mass transit systems in the existing cities. It will be challenging to put up efficient mass transit systems in the existing cities due to various factors such as congested roads, heavy traffic density, unavailability of suitable land, etc. Planning new cities with mass public transit systems as the transport backbone will be ideal, provided futuristic, long-term planning is properly done. This will be the hallmark of urban infrastructure in India. Mass transit systems are considered to be modern, safe, green and reliable and as such will be favoured.

An impetus has been provided through amended policy guidelines to the implementation of metro and monorail projects, with an emphasis on private sector participation. Also, since urban transport infrastructure needs large capital outlays, increased options for long-term capital availability will help catalyse growth in this sector. Metro projects under implementation are getting commissioned in stretches and extensions are also being rolled out. At the Hyderabad metro, we have completed a length of 56 km, facilitating a hassle-free commute for 300,000 passengers per day. The signs are encouraging and we expect to complete the project by the end of 2019 and ramp up ridership significantly.

How has the role of PPPs evolved in the urban transport sector over the past few years?

PPPs in the urban transport sector are still at a nascent stage and will take time to evolve. We need a collaborative approach and greater synergy between various levels of government, namely, the central government, state governments, municipal bodies, power generation and distribution companies and the defence sector. More work needs to be done on allaying private sector concerns with respect to risk sharing and the redressal mechanism.

The Patna metro rail project is about to start in PPP mode. In the Pune metro rail project too, we have a part of the line being developed in PPP mode. The Hyderabad metro and some lines of the Mumbai metro are also operational in the PPP mode. Therefore, we need to wait before we come to a conclusion on the role of PPPs in the urban transport sector. This model cannot work in exclusivity; it needs to be augmented and supported by other means.

What are the key challenges that remain unaddressed? What are some of the strategies needed to overcome these challenges?

The urban transport sector will provide opportunities in terms of shifting loyalties and shifting work preferences of the urban class. There is going to be a huge influx of people into urban areas. With the rapid growth in urbanisation, transporting people across destinations for work and leisure will be a challenge.

We need to develop social infrastructure to minimise unnecessary commutes for citizens. There is a need to develop infrastructure so that people do not commute multiple times a day to undertake routine chores. For example, when a person commutes to and from work, he/she should be able to drop his/her child to school on the way, purchase groceries on the way back and then return home without the need to drive down again for shopping.

The sector is going to face a shortage of skilled manpower to undertake works of such a huge magnitude. I see the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) playing a big role in grooming resources. The chairman of Larsen & Toubro (L&T), A.M. Naik, as the chairman of the NSDC, is providing the required direction in this regard. This is one step in bridging the big gap between availability and requirement of skilled manpower. L&T as a corporate is also doing its bit in skill development for the infrastructure industry.

There are a number of challenges being faced in the sector. If these challenges are addressed, we are sure that metro rail projects will excel.

  • It is most important to have a robust model for execution of metro projects on the lines of the PPP model, with a clear change in the mindset of all concerned.
  • In the pre-construction stage, difficulties are being faced because no comprehensive map of underground utilities is available.
  • Encumbrances related to land, such as acquiring continuous right of way and acquisition of private land, are also responsible for delays in project execution.
  • Government agencies should extend support to metro rail concessionaires. To make the most of the numerous opportunities available in the metro sector, the government needs to ensure that coordinated approvals are granted by different government agencies both at the central and state levels. This will definitely ease the pains being felt currently.
  • Standardisation and unification of technical specifications across the country will help in a big way.
  • The challenge related to funding, due to the long gestation period of infrastructure projects, is basically felt by private companies. Special funding at low interest rates and for long durations or funding tied up with international agencies at low rates of interest are unfortunately not available to private entities.

What are the targets and timelines of the Hyderabad metro rail project? What has been the progress so far?

We have completed 56 km and expect the balance to be ready by December 2019.

Corridor Details
Corridor I Miyapur-Lal Bahadur Nagar
Corridor II Jubilee Bus Station-
Falaknuma
Corridor III Nagole-Raidurg

L&TMRHL envisions creating “The Metro Rail Experience”, deriving pride from exemplary service, enhancing value for all stakeholders and achieving progress through partnerships. It is committed to enhancing the quality of life for people through a sustainable transport network integrated with vibrant urban spaces, thereby, fostering a culture of caring, learning and innovation driven by strong ethics and values.

The Hyderabad metro rail project has transformed Hyderabad into one of India’s most preferred cities with integrated urban transport planning using intermodal connectivity and convenient skywalks, marking the beginning of an era of seamless commuting.

What is the total project cost? What are the key sources of funds?

The estimated cost of the project is Rs 163.75 billion. It is funded by a mix of debt and equity with viability gap funding of Rs 14.58 billion.

What are the new and advanced systems being deployed?

We have deployed the latest communications-based train control technology in signalling that will allow a train frequency of 90 seconds during peak hours. The rolling stock is imported from Korea with state-of-the-art technology requiring minimal maintenance, thus reducing operational costs. The trains are using regenerative electric braking, thereby converting the momentum into electrical energy and feeding it back to the power supply system while braking. As a contribution towards the Clean Development Mechanism, this will reduce the energy requirement from the grid.

The Hyderabad metro rail project used Track Master, a unique instrument for checking the parameters of the track and for enhancing the quality of track installation.

Further, a simulation study-based track design is being adopted for the first time in the country for designing the tracks. In this process, prior to track design, the probable speed of trains on a particular stretch is determined by carrying out a simulation study. Based on this data, the track is accordingly designed only for that particular speed on that specific stretch. This avoids designing the track for speeds much higher than required. This process has a number of advantages – greater passenger comfort, reduction of rail and wheel wear and tear, reduced loading on the viaduct and increased productivity in track installation.

Automatic fare collection ensures that we can provide tickets without human intervention at all the metro stations. We have smart card and token systems. Smart cards are currently in a closed loop system and we are actively working to migrate to the open loop system. Once that is done, there will be integration with other modes of transport within the city and with other metros across the country.

What is the outlook for the urban transport sector for the next one-two years?

We expect capacity enhancement from the current levels, but there is scope to do more. We need the government to increase the spending on infrastructure, improve existing metro rail systems and build new ones. There is an opportunity for integrating various modes of transport and ensuring that we provide last-mile and first-mile connectivity.

“PPPs in the urban transport sector are still at a nascent stage and will take time to evolve.”