The National Capital Region (NCR) is among the world’s largest urban agglomerations. With the rampantly increasing urbanisation, the city faces a plethora of issues such as unplanned growth, lack of reliable public transport, severe congestion on city roads and increased pollution levels. These issues can be effectively tackled by developing a robust public transport system such as a regional rapid transport system (RRTS), which will help achieve the objective through its high speed, higher capacity and an integrated railway network.
The RRTS is a high-priority project that aims to decongest the NCR’s transit system across all modes. Its implementing agency, the National Capital Region Transit Corporation (NCRTC), is a joint venture of the central government and the state governments of Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. The NCRTC is looking to deploy high speed rail transit systems to provide seamless connectivity to commuters to regional nodes such as Meerut, Alwar and Panipat, with reduced travel time. It is expected that the project will be a game changer for the NCR and beyond by enabling regional connectivity and reducing the dependence of commuters on road-based transportation.
Project scope and features
The RRTS project is being developed in phases and eight corridors have been identified for development, of which three have been taken up on a priority basis. These are the Delhi-Meerut (82 km), Delhi-Panipat (103 km) and Delhi-Alwar (164 km) stretches, which add up to about 350 km in length and are part of Phase I of the project. All three corridors will converge at Sarai Kale Khan, and will be interoperable, providing seamless movement.
The Delhi-Meerut stretch entails an investment of Rs 302.74 billion. It will receive funding worth $1 billion from the Asian Development Bank, $500 million from the New Development Bank and $500 million from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Meanwhile, the Delhi-Panipat corridor is expected to entail an investment of around Rs 300 billion, with a major part of the funding coming from multilateral agencies as in the other two corridors. The Delhi-Alwar corridor entails an investment of Rs 370 billion. As per latest updates, the Ministry of Finance is in talks with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the World Bank to raise around $3 billion for funding the project. Of this, around $2 billion will be provided by JICA and $1 billion by the World Bank.
Progress so far
Civil works for the Delhi-Meerut corridor are under way. Construction on the project has picked up pace, as the first pillar of the 9.2 km long elevated section in Delhi has been completed. It has been constructed near the upcoming New Ashok Nagar RRTS station. The height of the constructed pier is 6.5 metres, and the height of the piers in the stretch varies from 5.6 metres to 17 metres. Further, work on the 17th bridge over the Yamuna river is also moving at a fast pace. In February 2021, the NCRTC started work on constructing a bridge on the river, which will be parallel to the Delhi-Noida direct flyway. The 1.35 km long bridge will connect the Sarai Kale Khan and New Ashok Nagar stations. It will be the first RRTS bridge on the river. The length of the bridge crossing over the river will be around 626 metres. Construction work on the Sarai Kale Khan station is also under way. On June 15, 2021, the NCRTC announced its plans of using clean energy for the RRTS corridor as a part of its energy management policy.
Disruptions due to Covid-19
The nationwide lockdowns to curb the spread of Covid-19 impacted construction work on the Delhi-Meerut stretch. The NCRTC had to temporarily suspend construction operations in compliance with the lockdown restrictions. Operations were impacted due to interruptions in project execution, disruptions in supply chain and non-availability of labour during the lockdown period. Construction operations resumed from the beginning of May 2020 onwards in a gradual manner, based on the resources available at various project sites. The NCRTC is using electronic platforms and information technology tools for everyday functions such as internal approvals, procurement and designing to keep the work going.
New technologies and solutions
The Delhi-Meerut RRTS project is expected to be a game changer for the NCR and beyond, as it will bring currently far-off places closer to the capital in terms of travel time. In order to ensure the highest degree of efficiency in every aspect of the project, The NCRTC has been leveraging advanced technological solutions at all stages of project implementation, from planning and designing to execution and maintenance.
The various advanced technological solutions deployed in this project include unmanned aerial vehicle (drone) videography for creation of baseline documents and project monitoring; Virtual Reality Studio for 3D visualisation; Building Information Modelling for collaborative designs; Innovative Train Control Monitoring System technology and predictive and condition-based monitoring for extensive train-to-ground diagnostics; SPEED (in-house) and Primavera P6 for project planning and monitoring; and a Geospatial Information System for conducting live, virtual and constructive study and land parcel survey. Further, the NCRTC will be using the modern European Train Control System (ETCS) Level-2 signalling system for the Delhi-Ghaziabad-Meerut RRTS corridor. The system is used globally for high speed railway transit and provides various benefits. First, The ETCS supports an automatic train operation functionality that controls the traction system, acceleration, braking and stopping of trains. Second, it will facilitate interoperability of all the three RRTS corridors – Delhi-Ghaziabad-Meerut, Delhi-Gurugram-SNB and Delhi-Panipat. Lastly, the system will enable the use of virtual blocks, eliminating any possibility of train collision by ensuring that there is never more than one train in a single virtual block at any given time.
Key issues and challenges
The RRTS is a relatively new concept in India, leading to certain roadblocks such as involvement of multiple stakeholders, technological challenges, huge funding requirements and land acquisition issues. These issues have adversely impacted the execution of the project, leading to cost overruns.
The involvement of multiple stakeholders leads to difficulties in coordination, while delays in receiving approvals lead to delays in project execution, eventually increasing the cost and affecting overall project feasibility. The RRTS project also requires greater complexity in civil works, leading to technological issues in project execution. The project also involves huge funding requirements, roughly 40 per cent of which is expected to be incurred by the state and central governments. The outbreak of Covid-19 has severely affected the growth projections of the economy. Going forward, the relief measures and diverted interest of the government towards essential sectors might impact funding for the project. Further, RRTS projects also face land acquisition issues, further delaying project execution. The Delhi-SNB RRTS corridor faced hurdles due to land litigation issues for around 70 acres of the 182 acres needed to set up a depot in Dharuhera.
The way forward
Despite various issues and challenges pertaining to project implementation, the RRTS has emerged as a feasible alternative to the metro rail as it covers a larger geographical area, has faster design speed and facilitates multimodal integration.
Going forward, regional rapid corridors will connect Delhi to not just Meerut, Alwar and Panipat, but also five other far-flung areas of the NCR. The RRTS has identified the corridors to be planned and implemented across several cities of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh in Phase II such as Palwal, Rohtak and Baraut. These corridors include Delhi-Faridabad-Ballabhgarh-Palwal, Ghaziabad-Khurja, Delhi-Bahadurgarh-Rohtak, Ghaziabad-Hapur, and Delhi-Shahdara-Baraut. The NCRTC has planned these corridors in order to decongest the existing vehicular load on the roads through the provision of a reliable public commuter service.