The regional rapid transit system (RRTS) is an innovative, transformative and strategic regional public transit initiative by the government in the National Capital Region (NCR). This high-speed system (design speed 180 kmph and operational speed 160 kmph) will provide a high frequency, reliable and safe mode of commuting between metropolitan areas, big cities, towns and other suburban and urban centres in the NCR. Besides promoting balanced and sustainable urban development across the NCR, the RRTS will also bring in significant economic benefits such as savings due to reduction in pollution, travel time, vehicle operating costs, road stress and accidents; improved productivity output of labour and industries; creation of indirect and induced employment; and an increase in the GDP of the entire region.
The project is being funded jointly by the central government (20 per cent of the total project cost) and the state governments of Delhi and Uttar Pradesh (combined 20 per cent of the total project cost), while the remaining portion is financed with assistance from multilateral agencies. The RRTS, being the first of its kind in the country, has garnered significant interest from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), New Development Bank (NDB) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which have assumed the primary responsibility for funding the project.
In August 2020, ADB approved funds worth Rs 76.9 billion ($1,049 million) in three tranches (1, 3 and 4) for the project. A month later, NDB approved funds worth Rs 37.5 billion ($500 million), following which, in October 2020, AIIB approved funds worth Rs 36.65 billion ($500 million) for Tranche 2 of the project. Under the Union Budget 2023-24, the urban transit project received Rs 35.96 billion, which is a 23 per cent decrease from the previous budget, but in line with the National Capital Region Transport Corporation’s (NCRTC) demands. Following this, in September 2023, the Uttar Pradesh government sanctioned another Rs 3.50 billion to expedite the construction.
The construction of the 82 km-long Delhi-Ghaziabad-Meerut RRTS corridor is under way. The RRTS corridor passes through densely populated cities and towns such as Delhi, Sahibabad, Ghaziabad, Muradnagar, Modinagar and Meerut. The three stretches prioritised under Phase I of the project include Delhi-Ghaziabad-Meerut, Delhi-Panipat and Delhi-Alwar. The length of the prioritised corridors is approximately 350 km, with 600 coaches, six depots and an estimated cost of Rs 1 trillion.
The RRTS network will provide secure, world-class commuter transit services and reduce commuter travel time in the region through its high speed (160 km) and high frequency (5 to 10 minutes) operations. The chosen technology will allow non-stop trips of 100 km to be completed in approximately 45-50 minutes.
Going forward, the future stretches of the RRT Sinclude Delhi–Faridabad–Ballabgarh– Palwal, Ghaziabad-Khurja, Delhi-Bahadurgarh-Rohtak, Ghaziabad-Hapur and Delhi-Shahdara-Baraut. Recently, NCRTC proposed to alter the alignment for the Gurugram-SNB section with it now following the Gurgaon expressway route.
Multimodal integration and connectivity
The three under-construction corridors will be interoperable, providing seamless movement and will converge at Sarai Kale Khan. Multimodal integration will be established across different transport modes such as the metro (seven Delhi metro lines, the Meerut metro, the Gurugram rapid metro and the Bawal metro), interstate bus terminals (Sarai Kale Khan, Kashmere Gate, Anand Vihar, Panchgaon and Panipat), bus terminals (the Kaushambi Bus Depot, Sahibabad bus adda, Ghaziabad New Bus Adda, Muradnagar Bus Adda, Bhaisali Bus Adda, and the Bawal, Gannur and Panipat Bus Stands), railway stations (Hazrat Nizamuddin and Anand Vihar) and the Indira Gandhi International Airport (via the Aerocity metro).
Additionally, the RRTS infrastructure will provide local transit (metro) services in Meerut over a stretch of 21 km, with 13 stations (stoppages) to cater to the local mobility requirements.
- Signalling and telecom: The Delhi-Meerut RRTS corridor will be the world’s first rail corridor to implement the European Train Control System Level 2 (ETCS L2) signalling, based on long term evolution (LTE) communication service with Hybrid Level 3 functionality. The project will also deploy interoperable automatic train operations with ETCS. Another first for the project is the integration of platform screen doors (PSDs) with the ETCS signalling system, utilising Packet 44 for train and PSD synchronisation. This makes it one of the most advanced signalling projects in the world, positioning India at the forefront of innovation and technology adoption. State-of-the-art ETCS L2 technology is being used in the RRTS for the first time in India and will achieve the twin objectives of interoperability (vendor independence) and efficient high speed operations with increased safety, higher line capacity and improved headways.
- Rolling stock: In 2020, as a major push to the Make in India initiative, NCRTC announced that the entire rolling stock for the Delhi-Meerut RRTS corridor would be manufactured in the country. Additionally, as against the Make in India bid requirement that at least 75 per cent of the quantity be manufactured in India, Bombardier Transportation India Private Limited’s winning bid proposed to manufacture 100 per cent of the rolling stock in Savli, Gujarat, using 83 per cent local content.
- Fare collection: NCRTC is adopting the automatic fare collection (AFC) system for the corridor. Similar to the procurement of rolling stock, the nodal agency invited bids under Make in India guidelines and is based on the hybrid annuity model. Under this, the first step involves selecting a system integrator for installation activities, followed by a financial institution for acquiring services.
The AFC will offer QR code-based ticketing (digital and paper). Each ticket vending machine will be equipped with a credit/debit/ prepaid card reader that complies with the Europay, MasterCard, Visa and RuPay standards for non-cash transactions. This will ensure seamless, simple, comfortable and quick contactless entry/exit. Additionally, commuters will have the convenience of using any National Common Mobility Card.
Non-fare revenue streams
In order to ensure the long-term financial viability of the RRTS project, NCRTC has been exploring various avenues to generate non-fare box revenues. The organisation has decided to include panel advertising, experiential advertising, retail shops, semi-naming rights, real estate development and consultancy as part of its strategies. It will soon select its partners for activities such as outdoor and indoor train wrapping, leasing of mobile towers and optical fibre, and provision of last-mile connectivity, as well as multi-level commercial areas above its Sarai Kale Khan and Anand Vihar stations. It will also offer brands exclusive rights to sell certain categories of products at their stations.
NCRTC has developed in-house competence in utilising OpenTrack simulation software, which takes inputs from tracks, signals and telecommunication, and rolling stock. The results of such simulations help in optimising track layouts, formulating train operation plans, designing tunnel ventilation systems and achieving energy optimisation. NCRTC has also extended its expertise by providing consultancy services to the Kerala High Speed Rail (Thiruvananthapuram-Kasaragod) project. Additionally, the agency will undertake a comprehensive evaluation of track alignment designs for the 180 kmph train operation, through its open rail designer platform. In-house capabilities are being developed to review alignment using the software. The alignment is further integrated with Google Maps, which enables the generation of a digital terrain model (ground surface) from the existing topography survey. This tool also allows for designing the vertical alignment, reviewing the horizontal alignment, identifying critical locations of the alignment that may hinder speed potential, highlighting components requiring modification and generating automatic annotation of plan and profile drawings.
The Systematic Program Evaluation for Efficient Delivery of Project (SPEED), a cloud based platform, is another in-house tailor-made solution for infrastructure projects. The system oversees all critical aspects such as pre-construction, construction, cost monitoring, review meeting, quality and employee self-service. This platform also aids in the timely identification and mitigation of potential risks (particularly those involving third parties) and managing pre-construction risks.
Leveraging technology at the construction stage
NCRTC is using the latest technology, cutting-edge tools and industry best practices to achieve optimisation in planning, efficiency in execution and effectiveness in monitoring and managing risks, ensuring timely and cost-effective project delivery. At the construction stage, NCRTC uses technologies such as Primavera P6 and SPEED for project planning and monitoring, drones for documentation, and collaborative design. The RRTS project extensively incorporates the seven dimensions of BIM. By integrating BIM with the geographic information system (GIS) platform, NCRTC has created a digital twin of the RRTS project. Additionally, virtual reality applications are being employed, enabling engineers to participate in immersive collaborative meetings and review designs on a 1:1 scale.
- CDE: The Common Data Environment (CDE) serves as a cloud-based platform for document and drawing sharing, as well as approval of workflow management. It functions as a document management system and file approval system, while facilitating BIM implementation. The CDE allows for viewing, annotation and commenting of 3D BIM models and DWG drawings directly within the browser, without the need for additional costly third-party solutions/software. It helps in creating a digital repository of the entire project from inception till completion.
- BIM and GIS: NCRTC is leveraging new and rapidly developing technologies such as BIM and GIS in construction management. BIM offers advantages in the form of rich geometric and semantic information throughout the building life cycle, while GIS encompasses a broad field of geo-visualisation-based decision-making and geospatial modelling.
The construction of the Delhi-Meerut RRTS station is being carried out via the top-down method, where construction begins at the ground level and then progresses underground. Near the station, four tunnel boring machines (TBMs) named Sudarshan have been deployed to construct tunnels for the corridor.
Sudarshan 4.1, the first TBM, has been deployed for the construction of the tunnel going towards New Ashok Nagar; the second TBM, Sudarshan 4.2, has completed the construction of the parallel tunnel; Sudarshan 4.3 has been deployed for the construction of the tunnel towards Sahibabad; and the fourth TBM, Sudarshan 4.4, has commenced construction of the parallel tunnel.
Operations and maintenance
In July 2022, NCRTC signed a 12-year contract with Deutsche Bahn Engineering and Consultancy India Private Limited, a subsidiary of Deutsche Bahn AG, the German national railway company, for the comprehensive operations and maintenance (O&M) of the RRTS.
By adopting this model of long-term private participation for O&M activities, NCRTC has taken the first step towards achieving the objective of the 2017 Metro Rail Policy, which advocates private sector participation in regional rail and metro rail projects.
The project faces several key challenges such as accommodating both high speed RRTS and low-speed metro on the same track infrastructure; creating a mechanism to eliminate the need to interchange between corridors; ensuring that corridor extensions remain independent of vendor lock-in; designing a mission-critical LTE-based safe train communication network; facilitating predictive and preventive maintenance; and ensuring accuracy of execution, matching with geo-coordinates in drawings.
Net, net, with the implementation of the RRTS, balanced and sustainable economic development of the NCR is possible. The quality of life for people in the less privileged segments of society will improve with the increase in economic activity. The RRTS will be a boon for the country, given its population explosion. The expansion of the RRTS will play a crucial role in enhancing intra- and inter-city connectivity and is essential for providing last-mile connectivity, a gap that feeder buses have so far failed to bridge.