Network Upgrade: Trends and outlook for the urban rail sector

The pace of construction and use of technology in the urban transport sector ha­ve picked up over the past few years. The metro rail network has increased at a compound annual growth rate of 19 per cent over the past 15 years on the back of a reduction in construction time and cost of construction on nominal value terms. As per KPMG, 782 km of metro network length is currently operational across 15 cities, with over 1,000 km of network either under construction or approved. The capital outlay for the under-construction projects is around Rs 3.4 trillion, while almost the same amount has been allocated for newly approved projects. In terms of technology, op­en loop ticketing systems, drones, sensors, art­ificial intelligence, video analytics and communications-based train control systems are some of the solutions being deployed. Mean­while, the focus on indigenisation has increas­ed with the Make in India and Atmanirbhar Bharat initiatives.

Indian Infrastructure takes a look at the key trends in the urban transport sector…

Emerging forms of transit

Green mobility is becoming increasingly relevant as part of India’s expanding social infrastructure and digital revolution. As a result, a more sustainable and futuristic urban transportation system is being promoted. MetroNeo and MetroLite are expected to be the predominant metro systems in the next 25 years.

MetroLite, or light rail transit (LRT), is a low-cost, low-axle-load, eco-friendly, electrically pro­pelled system with no local pollution, and low noise and vibration. MetroNeo projects are being evaluated for Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities sin­ce they are more cost effective than metro rail projects in low-demand areas. The Kochi and Maha­rashtra metro rail corporations have proposed MetroNeo projects in their states. In Coimbatore, the detailed project report has been prepared for the MetroLite project. Other key upcoming MetroLite projects are in Jammu, Srinagar and Gorakhpur.

Technology uptake

Indigenous automatic train supervision

Automatic train supervision (ATS) technology monitors and adjusts the train system to ensure that it adheres to the specified schedule and traffic pattern. It helps mitigate disruptions arising due to system abnormalities and equipment malfunctions by performing tasks such as supervision of train status, automatic route selection, automatic operations logging, and coordination to enable better train management. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) has launched an indigenous automatic train supervision (i-ATS) system, a communication-based train control si­g­nalling system built indigenously in collaboration with Bharat Electronics Limited. The final field trials of the iATS for Delhi Metro’s Red Line were virtually inaugurated in March 2022.

Driverless technology

Metro systems have been increasingly focusing on switching to advanced technologies such as driverless operations. Driverless train operations on Delhi’s Pink Line (Line 7) were started in November 2021. More recently, DMRC sign­ed a contract with Alstom India to procure 312 coaches (52 trains) for its Phase IV priority corridors. The three priority corridors are Majlis Park to Maujpur, Janakpuri West to RK Ashram Marg and Tughlakabad to Delhi Aerocity. These trains will be compatible for driverless operations, in line with DMRC’s efforts to provide world-class services.

Innovative ticketing solutions

As an increasing number of cities are opting for metro systems as the preferred mode of public transport, the market for automated fare collection (AFC) systems is also growing. Open-lo­op cards based on Europay, Mastercard or Visa (EMV) contactless technology are also emerging as an alternative medium of ticketing to ensure seamless travel. The Kochi metro was the first to deploy EMV cards.

QR codes are also rapidly replacing single-journey smart tokens, thus saving huge operational costs for transport operators. With this technology, commuters no longer have to carry smart cards, as the QR code is displayed on their mobile phones and can be tapped at the AFC gate of any metro station. India’s first regional rapid transit system (RRTS) corridor, the Delhi-Meerut RRTS line will incorporate an AFC system and tickets with QR codes for riders.

The central government launched the National Common Mobility Card (NCMC), called One Nation, One Card, in March 2019, for all ty­pes of digital transactions. Many transport ag­en­cies are accepting/compliant with NCMC ca­rds. Chennai metro commuters will soon be able to use NCMCs, which can be used in several cities to travel, shop and park vehicles.

Energy conservation

Owing to the large-scale operations of the extensive metro network and the high frequency of service, a huge amount of energy is consumed. The costs arising from this energy consumption are increasing year on year due to further expansion of the metro network, thereby affecting the financial viability of the entire project. Thus, metro corporations in almost all cities are adopting renewable energy on a large scale for reducing their operational costs. The Sahibabad RRTS station, which is a part of India’s fastest urban rail track and is being constructed to promote cross-modal connectivity, will be powered by 1,100 solar panels. Moreover, Bangalore Met­ro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) intends to uti­lise solar energy to operate its trains. By Mar­ch 2023, BMRCL plans to install solar panels in all Phase II, IIA, and IIB metro stations.

PPPs for metro projects

While metro rail projects are primarily funded through budgetary support and multilateral aid, unbundled public-private partnerships (PPPs) are being preferred to encourage private investments in the sector. These include areas such as fare collection, long-term installation and maintenance contracts for rail systems, operations and maintenance (O&M) of metro systems and non-fare revenue strea­ms/ transit-oriented development.

Metro authorities are exploring innovative means of finance to mobilise resources for met­ro projects. Land value capture financing is gaining traction to address some of the financial cha­llenges and is expected to grow in the future. The Nagpur, Bengaluru, Delhi, Pune, Noida, Lu­ck­now and Jaipur metros have deployed this mechanism.

The government too is exploring innovative sources of funding, such as equity participation, leasing and commercial exploitation of land, and corporate bond issues for funding metro expansion plans. Integrated PPPs are possible for low-capex projects such as MetroNeo, given that the risk is shared by the metro authority.


In terms of metro rail construction practices, the precast methodology is increasingly being ad­opted across metro systems to expedite work. Under full-span precast construction, precast viaduct segments are made into one full span unit, which is lifted using a launching girder or crane for erection at the construction site. Meanwhile, the cast-in-situ construction methodology of manufacturing structures for metro viaducts on site rather than in the casting yard or factory. With respect to piers, concrete is prepared on the site and is poured in directly at the pier foundation location. Several metro corporations such as those in Delhi, Chennai, Kochi and Mumbai have used U-girders, which are full-span girders. Upcoming met­ro lines are also be­ing developed using these girders. Another trend in elevated station construction is the usage of pi-girders that are precast for platforms, unlike the traditional technique wherein the platform for metro stations is constructed in-situ.

In the past few years, tunnelling methods have evolved based on the requirements in the construction sector. Tunnel boring machines (TBM) have revolutionised the tunnelling industry by offering a safer, more economical solution for creating underground space and making it possible to create tunnels where they we­re not feasible before. Recently, the New Aus­trian Tunnelling Method (NATM) has started gai­ning prominence in the metro sector, particularly in urban areas where there are space constraints. NATM is commonly adopted at both sides of metro underground stations for providing a safe opening for TBM launching and outbreak. Delhi Metro Phase III Corridors I, II and III, Delhi Metro Phase II, and Lucknow Me­tro Phase I are some of the key projects completed using NATM.

The way forward

The metro network is expected to expand to 57 cities over the next 10 years. There has been an increasing emphasis on the optimisation of O&M costs, which are expected to be hi­gher than capex in the next 30 years. Fur­ther, maintenance practices will be optimised to improve utilisation and efficiency. Going forward, it is expected that O&M for metro projects in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities will be outsourced to private players.