Interview with Dr Brijesh Dixit: “Metro rail projects are being sanctioned, constructed and operationalised at a remarkable pace”

“Metro rail projects are being sanctioned, constructed and operationalised at a remarkable pace”

Dr Brijesh Dixit, Managing Director, Maharashtra Metro Rail Corporation Limited

The urban transport landscape in the country is undergoing a change. During the past few years, there has been some momentum in the development of metro rail networks in urban cities. The sector has received greater attention from both the central and state governments. This has primarily been driven by increasing demand, rising urban population, growing dependence on private modes of transport, increasing traffic congestion and rising pollution levels. In an interview with Indian Infrastructure,

Dr Brijesh Dixit, managing director, Maharashtra Metro Rail Corporation Limited (Maha Metro), talks about the progress in the sector, key initiatives and measures taken by the government, issues and challenges affecting project implementation, mitigation strategies, and priority areas for the future…

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

The urban transport sector has achieved significant progress over the past year. Metro rail projects are being sanctioned, constructed and operationalised at a remarkable pace. Between 2014 and 2019, the length of the operational metro rail network has increased from 250 km to 657 km, of which more than 200 km was added last year. Also, with another 300 km of projects sanctioned in 2018-19, the length of under-construction projects is inching towards 1,000 km with another 500 km in the advanced planning stage. Besides China, no other country has achieved such a feat in recent decades.

What are the specific initiatives taken by the government to propel sector growth?

The urban transport sector has seen fast-paced action in the past year. Various measures have been taken to gradually end the woes of urban mobility and provide cleaner, safer, affordable and inclusive transport facilities in an increasing number of cities. These are being enabled by key policy and statutory changes including the Metro Rail Policy (2017), the Make in India Guidelines (2017) and the proposed amendment to the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 (2019).

The Metro Rail Policy has ushered in an era of integrated multimodal urban transport planning that involves the inclusion of non-motorised transport and optimisation of land use. The policy seeks to ensure economic viability of metro rail projects by reduction of costs and innovative means of revenue enhancement. Moreover, the policy has brought in a paradigm shift by changing the project sanction criterion from financial internal rate of return to economic rate of return, acknowledging that metro rail brings immense socio-economic benefits to cities. The policy has enabled the sanction of an unprecedented 300 km of new metro line construction taking the metro revolution to Tier II cities.

The Make in India Guidelines (2017) are accelerating indigenisation and driving down project construction costs. Metro rail corporations like Maha Metro have gone far beyond the minimum indigenisation requirements laid down in the policy – civil works (80 per cent), electrical works (50 per cent), rolling stock (50 per cent), telecom (40 per cent) and signalling (30 per cent).

The amendment to the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, proposed in the recently concluded Parliament session, will drive behavioural change among road users, thereby transforming the way urban India drives and reducing the number of accidents on city roads.

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

The urban transport sector faces various challenges but metro rail is not the panacea to all the woes of urban mobility. The need of the hour is for cities and towns to have holistic, multifaceted, integrated mobility solutions comprising metro rail, suburban rail, modern light rail transit, bus rapid transit (where feasible), high quality urban bus services, efficient intermediate public transport, shared mobility solutions, non-

motorised transit (including e-rickshaws and cycles) and quality pathways for pedestrians. Moreover, the integration of multimodal transport is needed. For example, Nagpur has achieved this by connecting the railway station and airport with the metro and providing metro stations with last- and first-mile solutions. Similarly, Pune is connecting metro stations with railway stations within city limits, creating multimodal hubs at two key stations and providing interlinkages with first- and last-mile connectivity, including with non-motorised tracks.

Inadequate and poor quality public transport in our cities and towns has led to the proliferation of personal vehicles. Various big cities such as Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai and Delhi do not have adequate bus transport services. The bus services are not only poorly managed but also poorly patronised. A case in point is the Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport’s bus service in Mumbai, traditionally considered the best in the country, whose daily patronage has declined from 5 million in 2000 to 2 million in 2018. Such trends need to be reversed urgently and urban mass transit options led by metro rail and quality bus services have to work in tandem to provide a seamless mobility experience to commuters.

Improvement of public transport needs immediate attention as our cities continue to reel under severe pollution and congestion. As per a 2018 World Health Organization report, 15 of the top 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India. Also, congestion levels have become so high that peak hour vehicular speed in cities is down to 8-10 kmph and in some cities as low as 6 kmph (walking speed). Thus, it is time for a holistic reboot of policies and programmes along with fast-paced action, as the serious urban mobility challenges will become unmanageable by 2031, when the urban population swells to 600 million.

Finally, a totally unaddressed challenge is that of “mobility of urban freight”. Today, urban India accounts for more than two-thirds of the GDP, which will grow to three-fourths by 2031. Therefore, now is the time for addressing the challenges of urban freight mobility.

What should be the government’s key priority areas for the next one-two years? What are the specific steps taken by Maha Metro to improve the adoption of technology and innovative solutions?

The next two years will be defining ones for the sector. First, as metro rail construction progresses rapidly in over 25 cities, the focus will shift to much-needed cheaper mobility solutions for smaller cities and towns. Maha Metro has already forged ahead by conceptualising a unique Make in India solution for Nashik city, the first its kind. The project involves the development of a 32 km, low-cost, energy-efficient, grade-separated, bi-articulated, rubber tyre-mounted electric coach-based mobility system – Metro Neo – that can also be converted into a battery-operated, single-articulation feeder bus on low traffic routes. Metro Neo will be the precursor to other such systems in the country.

Another innovation by Maha Metro that has already been approved by the state government is the low-cost broad gauge metro project that will connect Nagpur with the nearby towns of Wardha, Narkhed, Bhandara and Ramtek. Further, there will also be focus on innovations to reduce project and operations and maintenance costs to maximise revenues and enhance project viability. Maha Metro at Nagpur through a mix of measures including the deployment of an innovative digital platform for 5D-building information modelling project management achieved 10 per cent savings over the estimated cost.

Moreover, with use of land value capture, transit-oriented development (TOD) policies and the first-of-its-kind 1 per cent surcharge on property registrations in Nagpur and Pune, Maha Metro is likely to earn more than 50 per cent of its total revenues from non-fare box sources in both cities. Other innovations by Maha Metro include the adoption of clean energy in a big way, with 65 per cent of the corporation’s energy needs being met by solar power, making it the greenest metro in the country. It is also the first comprehensive user of the TOD policy in the country. Interestingly, it had already collected Rs 1.5 billion in revenue even before the first metro train commenced operations in Nagpur.

The coming years will witness increased indigenisation under the Make in India programme. Maha Metro has already surpassed the indigenisation policy threshold for all sub-systems mandated in the Make in India guidelines. It has also recently awarded a contract for the manufacture of ultra-modern, energy efficient, aluminium coaches to Titagarh Wagons Limited’s subsidiary – Titagarh Firema – that will manufacture 75 per cent of the total 104 coaches at its Nagpur factory.

“The need of the hour is for cities and towns to have holistic, multifaceted, integrated mobility solutions.”

“There needs to be increased focus on innovations to reduce project and operations and maintenance costs to maximise revenues and enhance project viability.”