With rapid urbanisation, there has been a huge increase in the number of private vehicles on the road. This is essentially the result of the lack of efficient public transport in the country. Metros have become the default option for commuters given the convenience and connectivity they offer in cities like Delhi and Kolkata. But metro rail systems can also be an investment-intensive affair for non-metro cities. While financial viability is one area of concern, the congested urban landscape poses a challenge to the development of conventional metro rail systems. As a result, the central and state governments have been encouraging the development of alternative modes of transit such as light rail transit (LRT) systems, tramways and monorails.
Light rail transit system
An LRT system is a medium capacity mode of mass rapid transit (MRT) that lies between high capacity metro rail systems and low capacity bus services. LRT as a means of solving urban mobility woes has largely remained unexplored. However, in July 2019, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) issued specifications to promote the development of a light urban rail transit system (Metrolite) in urban areas. Following this, Maharashtra became the first state to approve an LRT system for Nashik in August 2019. Later, in October 2019, another such corridor was approved by the board of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation and MoHUA. In Delhi, the proposed Metrolite project, also being referred to as Metro Neo, aims to serve as a feeder service to the conventional metro network, whereas it will serve as the primary metro project in Nashik. Cities such as Chennai and Noida are also evaluating the feasibility of running an LRTS to supplement connectivity provided by metro trains. With the upcoming light rail project in the capital, the concept is gaining momentum in the rest of the country as well.
Monorails were first introduced in the country in 2014. Mumbai remains the only city to have implemented it so far. With the aim of expanding public transport in the city, Mumbai introduced monorails consisting of single rail tracks, typically elevated. The first phase of 8.26 km of the monorail project, from Chembur to Wadala was commissioned in 2014 while the second phase, from Wadala to Gadge Maharaj Chowk, was commissioned in March 2019. The project has been implemented by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority. The entire Chembur-Wadala-Jacob Circle monorail network, stretching over 19.54 km, besides being the country’s first monorail system, is the third longest monorail network in the world. The network has the capacity to carry about 200,000 commuters daily. It has lower maintenance costs as the infrastructure is not as extensive as other MRT systems. However, the future of monorails does not seem as promising, as even globally there are not many takers for these projects due to limited number of suppliers.
Another very popular and old means of urban transit is trams, seen only in Kolkata. Trams are important cost-effective means of public transport. However, in May 2019, Kolkata’s trams underwent a makeover with the aim of combining old-world charm with modern-day comfort. Air conditioners have been installed and overall refurbishment has been undertaken to make the passenger commute a pleasant experience. The transformation of trams, at a cost of Rs 2.5 million, has opened up the path for the revival of this long-forgotten mode of transit.
At present, a metro rail network of 665.87 km is operational across the country, with another 457.57 km under construction and 18.8 km under trial. However, ridership data reveals that there is insufficient footfall in many cities such as Nagpur and Kochi and even in some corridors of the Delhi metro. The Kochi metro is reportedly suffering an estimated loss of around Rs 250 million annually. To address this issue, the government is promoting alternative modes of transit, and these have already started gaining momentum in the country.