Urban Transit Trends: Growing indigenisation and automation in metro operations

Growing indigenisation and automation in metro operations

The first metro in India, with a network length of 3.4 km, com­menced in Kolkata in 1984. In 2002, Delhi commen­c­ed op­erations of a fully automated en­er­gy-effi­cient AC metro servi­ce that stretched 25 km. The network has since grown exponentially. Curren­tly, India’s operati­o­nal network spans 770 km and covers 18 cities. The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs  (MoHUA) estimates that by 2025, 1,700 km of the metro network will cover 27 cities.

Delhi has the largest operational network spa­nning 350 km, followed by Hyderabad (69.2 km), Bangalore (56.1 km) and Chennai (54.1 km). Mumbai has the largest network under construction at 149 km, followed by Chennai (118.9 km), Bengaluru (118.8 km) and Delhi (103.0 km). A network of 490 km across 15 ci­ties is curren­tly undergoing planning, investigation, or approval.

Increase in urban congestion, government policies favoring improvement in last-mile connectivity, improvement of public transport system and initiatives centred on sustainability, carbon emissions and neutrality, and the successful experience of Delhi metro are the primary growth drivers for the sector.

Urban transit infrastructure challenges

In India, infrastructure pro­jects face significant challenges. The delay in land acquisi­tion has  been a key issue for most of the metros. Due to the long gestation period and hefty capital costs, financing metro rail projects has been challenging. There are also operational risks such as rising input costs. Furthermore, fare-box collection alone is insufficient to cover the expenses. So, there is a need to rely on non-fare-box revenue and alternative revenue streams. In order to continue growth in the sector, it is necessary to increase private participation and the capacity of all stakeholders.

Emerging trends: New urban transit modes

The government has recently la­un­ched two lighter transit systems – MetroLite and Metro Neo – which are designed to meet the transportation nee­ds of Tier II and Tier III cities.

MetroLite is a low-cost rapid transit system that offers the same level of comfort, convenience, safety, punctuality, reliability and environmental friendliness as conventional metro. It is a low-capacity system intended for 5,000 to 15,000 peak hour peak direction traffic (PHPDT) and fully elevated costs around 40 per cent less than conventional metro systems (Rs 1.4- 1.6 billion per km). MetroLite is currently being planned in Jammu & Kashmir, Gorakhpur and Coimbatore. The salient features of this system include low-cost mobility for Tier II cities, un­manned stations with minimal infrastructure, 27 km per hour (kmph) operational speed, 25 me­tre curve negotiation, and a segregated section (wherever required).

MetroNeo is a rubber-tyred electric coach powered by an overhead traction system running on a road slab with exclusive right of way, also offering the same level of comfort, convenience, safety, punctuality, reliability and environmental friendliness as the conventional metro. This met­ro is suitable for smaller cities with up to 8,000 PHPDT. The cost of MetroNeo is 25 per cent less than the conventional metro (Rs 0.7-0.8 billion per km) (as per MoHUA estimates). It has the po­tential to transform smaller cities by reducing ro­ad congestion and environment pollution. Some of its best features are 25-35 kmph operating speed and electric articulated coaches. Metro­Neo is currently being planned in Nashik, Waran­gal and Dehradun.

Another emerging transport system is the Regional Rapid Transit System (RRTS), a transformational intervention set to revolutionise regional development. It is being implemented between the two cities of Delhi and Meerut with a travel time of 55 minutes and a total of 22 stations. Currently, a length of 82 km is under construction. This system costs around Rs 3.70 billion per km. The Delhi-Meerut RRTS will help in the creation of economic opportunities along the entire corridor and will reduce the congesti­on in NCR. Its key features include 180 kmph design speed and 160 kmph operational speed, low maintenance ballastless tracks for high speed, rigid overhead catenary system, and European train control system L2 signaling on the long term evolution (LTE) backbone.

Delhi is coming up with two new corridors – the Delhi-SNB RRTS and the Delhi-Panipat RRTS. In addition, Hyderabad is introducing two lines – the Hyderabad-Warangal RRTS and the Hyderabad-Vijayawada RRTS.

Technology indigenisation

In terms of technology, communication-based train control (CBTC) is the most commonly used signaling system in all metros. It makes the me­tro fully automatic and consists of an automatic train control system, automatic train sup­ervision system and computer based interlocking and radio system (iATS). CBTC helps reduce significant cost on operations and maintenance (O&M) and dependence on original equipment manufacturers.

Driverless operations are also commonly used. They help in reducing human error, and in­c­reasing operational efficiency, safety and flexibility. It has been commissioned on 37 km of the Magenta Line and 57 km of the Pink Line of Delhi Metro.

The other technologies that are gaining traction are Supervisory Control and Data Ac­quisition (SCADA), which is an artificial intelligence based diagnostic platform for monitoring the functioning of the metro. Digitalisation using Building information modeling (BIM), e-PMC, digital twins and virtual reality helps in effective planning and reducing the delays in construction. Mobility as a service (MaaS) is a data-driven approach to bridge the gap between first and last mile connectivity using smartphones.

Internet of things (IoT) and big data have huge potential in the metro sector, particularly in asset management, for which data is collected through sensors attached to critical components of the metro.


Going forward, green energy is being actively promoted by the government in all sectors including metro transport. To this end, 130 MW of solar power capacity has been ins­ta­ll­ed at all depots and station buildings. Around 600 MW is planned to be implemented by 2026-27. All mo­dern coaches are coming up with regenerative braking systems in coaches, energy efficiency pro­pulsion systems, en­er­gy efficient air conditioning systems, and light weight coach design, LEDs and smart lights for stations.

There is a scope for standardisation in metro components like rolling stock, STT syste­ms, electrical electromechanical compone­nts and civil engineering structures as well as ben­chmarking of the cost and procurement eligibility criteria. This will improve interoperability, reduce the cost, and promote long-term investments and indigenous development and manufacturing.

In the short term, design and build will be the preferred choice of construction in the me­tro sector. In order to reduce the opex, public-pri­vate partnership is now being favoured, especially for the O&M of rolling stock and metro systems, fare collection and provision of first and last mile connectivity. In order to re­du­ce the upfront capex, leasing models should be evaluated. Delhi metro has also started exploring green financing, which includes gr­een bo­nds and sale of carbon credits, to redu­ce the capex burden. The government’s focus on standardisation and indigenisation will also drive the domestic manufacturing of rolling stock and signaling systems. w

Based on a presentation by
Hari Somalraju, Managing Director, Systra Group India, at the India Infrastructure Forum 2022