Views of U.J.M. Rao: “Metro rail mass transit systems act as economic growth engines of urban India”

The metro rail is gaining prominence as a green and sustainable means of urban transportation. This mode of transportation will allow cities to achieve social, economic and environmental growth. At a recent India Infrastructure conference, U.J.M. Rao, Managing Director, Andhra Pradesh Metro Rail Corporation, discussed the financial viability of metro rail systems for Tier 2 cities and the progress in the Visakhapatnam light metro rail and the MetroLite (modern catenary free tram) systems. Excerpts…

Similar to the medium metro rail systems already in operation in many Indian citi­es, the light metro rail system is suitable for Tier-2 cities with moderate ridership due to its smaller size and higher efficiency. The capital expenditure and operational expenditure for this metro system is roughly 25 per cent and 20 per cent less than other metros, respectively. Therefore, the adoption of this system would result in sizeable savings while providing the same facilities to the commuters. It would cater to the traffic needs of cities having less than 5 million population for the next 40-45 years and can be upgraded to a higher version with minimum modifications, for increased metro ridership, if it so demands.

The total length of the Visakhapatnam light metro rail is 76.9 km with four proposed corridors at an estimated cost of Rs 143 billion covering all busy routes in the city. The projected daily ridership for this line is 0.5 million for 2026 and around 1.2 million for 2051. With the support of the communicati­ons-based train control signalling system, the light metro system would enable driverless op­erations. The two-car train can accommodate 400-450 passengers. The rolling stock is 18 metres in leng­th, 2.65 metres in width and 3.9 metres in height. The metro will commen­ce operations with a two-car train and can be later added to with  three and four car syste­ms. Feeder services such as stop and go bus bays, e-rickshaw, e-cycles, metro buses and auto services for providing last mile connectivity will be made available. The metro system also plans to utilise the automatic fare collection system.

Cost optimisation

The elevated sections of the Visakhapatnam light metro rail systems adopt 13 tonnes of axle load, which will reduce the civil infrastr­uc­ture cost considerably as compared to 16 ton­nes of axle load bearing in medium metro systems in cities like Hyderabad, Jaipur, Ben­ga­lu­ru and Chennai. Since up to four car trai­ns ha­ve been considered for the rolling stock, the reduction in the length of the stations has been optimised accordingly. Due to this, the overall cost of civil infrastructure has decreas­ed significantly and after reducing the number of stations on the Kommadi-Bhogapuram section (30.48 km). With the deployment of grade of automation (GOA-4), driverless trains will contribute significantly in operational cost savings and result in overall reduction in the life cycle cost. With the implementation of the light metro rail system in Vishakhapatnam, the overall cost of the metro system has reduced to about Rs 1.85 billion per km from the previous Rs 2.45 billion per km in medium metro systems.

Policy support

Of the total project cost (Rs 143.09 billion) for the 76.90 km long light metro system, the private developers’ investment is around 60 per cent, that is, Rs 85.85 billion. The remaining 40 per cent will be given by the government as viability gap funding grant with no expectations of revenue returns. The developer is free to implement cost-effective designs for the civil and non-civil infrastructure, subject to the approval of inspectorial authorities such as the Research Designs and Standards Organisation and the Commissioner of Metro Rail Safety.

Around 80 per cent of the project land will be handed over to the concessionaire by the time the concession agreement is signed. Another 20 per cent will be handed over before the financial closure. As additional financial su­pport, 250 acres of additional land parcels in the Visakhapatnam City outskirts along the me­t­ro alignment will be given for property de­velopment. Considering the key performance indicators are fulfilled in the first term, an additional concession period of 25 years can also be granted, with the concessionaire having the first right of refusal. The developer, if he so de­si­res, can transfer the management/ownership to another agency after three years of the operations and maintenance (O&M) period by retaining 26 per cent of the equity share after the three-year O&M period. The revenue acc­rued during the concession period from fare box, non-fare box, rentals of commercial buildings at depots and stations and the additional land offered for property development revenu­es will be enjoyed by the developer. Moreover, the security personnel for the metro assets at depots and at stations will be provided by the state government.

Subsidised power tariff will be granted to keep the energy charges low. The developer can set up a solar energy grid by utilising the space on metro assets that would help in cutting down the energy charges further to zero. A double floor space index/floor area ratio will be granted for property development on station buildings and on other parcels. A well-structur­ed fare fixation mechanism is provided in the concession agreement protecting the fin­ancial interest of the developers’ consortium. The fare fixation committee (majority members are from the developer side) can increase the fares every two years at 5 per cent per annum, that is, a 10 per cent  increase every two years. La­st­ly, a high-level steering committee of state go­vernment officials has been formed to ensure instant clearances and approvals during construction and operations to ensure time and cost savings.

MetroLite (modern catenary free tram system)

The proposed MetroLite (modern CF tram) system in Vishakhapatnam and the busy sub-urban corridors in and around, is a 100 per cent low-floor vehicle with a length of 33 metres, width of 2.65 metres, and height of approxima­tely 3.6 metres. The passenger capacity per ve­hi­cle is 302, with an articulated bogie arran­gement. The two signalling systems being used in the train are GoA1 – line of sight by operation with a tram anti-collision system, and an operational control centre for traffic management. The operational speed for the tram system is 60 kmph, with the average speed being 24 kmph. A 750 V DC charging post is available at each tram station. In addition, the charging of tram batteries and super capacitors will be done through the pantograph from the charging line provided at the canopy at stations.

Net, net

As two of India’s fastest growing cities, Vijaya­wada and Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh are well connected to all parts of the country, putting significant strain on urban transportation within the city. As per the Metro Rail Policy 2017, cities that have more than 2 million of population can adopt metro rail systems as the most modern public transportation system, the light metro rail system in the state would provide the commuters with a fast, convenient, reliable, pollution-free and eco-friendly transport. This would enable the city to achieve sustainable growth from the social, economic and environmental perspectives. The state government has, therefore, decided to implement a light metro system over the next 40 years in consideration of the traffic demand and the travel requireme­nts, expanding it to the airport/Gannavaram on one side and the new capital city Amaravati on the other for a total length of 38 km in Vijaya­wada and 76.90 km in Visakhapatnam.