Digital Deployments: Technology advancements in Indian metro systems

In recent years, technology has played a critical role in various infrastructure sectors, pa­r­ticularly metro projects. Driven by ad­va­ncements in technologies and the increasing preference for metro systems as a primary mo­de of public transportation, the market for automated fare collection (AFC) systems, roll­ing stock, ticketing, civil construction, and station track and tunnel (STT) systems has witnessed significant growth.

Driverless technology

Metro systems are increasingly shifting their focus towards advanced technologies such as driverless operations. These technologies help in reducing human error, improving operational efficiency and increasing safety. Recently, driverless train operations have been commissioned on 37 km of the Delhi metro’s Magenta Line. Driverless operations on the Delhi metro’s Pink Line (Line 7) started in November 2021.

The DMRC also 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 with driverless operations, aligning with DMRC’s efforts to provide world-class services.

In a recent development, the Chennai Metro is currently preparing for the implementation of driverless operations by actively pursuing training in Dubai, prior to  commissioning driverless trains on Phase II of the metro in the near fu­ture. Around 138 three-car driverless trains will be operational over the next three years across three corridors spanning over 118 km.

Further, as of October 2023, successful metro trial runs have been conducted in Bhopal and Indore. After two years of operations, the implementing agencies will introduce driverless operations on these lines.

Ticketing trends

In recent times, the growth in the ticketing market has led to the introduction of innovative sol­utions for fare collection, driving “cashless” transactions through mobile wallets and quick response (QR) codes.

Open-loop cards based on Europay, Mas­tercard or Visa (EMV) contactless technology are emerging as an alternative medium of ticketing to ensure seamless travel. The Kochi me­tro was the first to deploy EMV cards. It la­u­nched the Kochi1 Card, a prepaid card attach­ed to a single wallet, for purchasing tickets or making payments at retail counters. The card was developed by Axis Bank in partnership with the National Payments Corporation of India. Meanwhile, Maha Metro, in partnership with the State Bank of India (SBI), has introduced an all-in-one MAHA Card.

Noida Metro Rail Corporation Limited (NMRCL) has launched the RuPay contactless smart card on the Aqua Line, which can be uti­lis­ed not only for ticketing but also for making various kinds of purchases. The card has been issued by SBI in association with SC Soft/Au­ri­onpro and NMRCL.

QR codes are also rapidly re­placing single jo­urney smart tokens, leading to significant op­erational cost savings for transport op­erators. Third-party digital wallets/payment plat­forms such as Paytm, Amazon Pay, Mobi­K­wik, Google Pay, PhonePe, etc. have started off­e­ring top-up and payment facilities to commu­ters.

In July 2023, the DMRC launched a dedicated mobile app called “DMRC TRAVEL” for generating convenient and hassle-free mobile QR tickets for travel across its network. The app supports multiple payment methods, including UPI, credit/debit cards and wallets. Following this, in August 2023, DMRC signed an MoU with the Indian Rail­way Catering and Tourism Corpora­tion (IRCTC) to introduce QR code-based ticketing for DMRC services via the IRCTC platform, as a part of the One India-One Ticket initiative. In line with the Indian Railways’ Advance Reserva­tion Period, this integration enables travellers to effortlessly plan their entire journey in one go. Additionally, DMRC has initiated the process of upgrading all its existing AFC systems to ensure compliance with National Common Mobility Card (NCMC) services.

India’s first regional rapid transit system (RRTS) corridor, between Delhi and Meerut, will adopt a modern AFC system, which will be developed and implemented by Paytm Pay­me­nts Bank Limited and the Datamatics-AEP consortium. The AFC system conforms to the government’s plan to implement NCMC across all modes of public transportation. Paytm will be responsible for the payment gateway portion of the system, while the Datamatics-AEP consortium will focus on the AFC system’s technology. The AFC system will integrate mobile apps, dynamic websites, closed and open-loop payment solutions, and public information kiosks-cum-transaction terminals with modern digital mobility requirements.

The Mumbai metro is the first mass rapid transit system to offer e-ticketing via Whats­App. As of May 2023, DMRC has launched e-ticketing in its Airport Express Line. In April 2023, Chen­nai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL) invited a digitally signed open e-tender for the de­sign, manufacture, supply and installation of the AFC system for CMRL Phase II, Corridor 4. Following this, CMRL also introduced the op­tion of pre-booking metro tickets, allowing corporates to pre-book for employees, with the aim of increasing footfall at stations. In a trial run conducted by Zifo Technologies, around 5,000 tickets were pre-booked.

Advancements in STT systems

  • Communication-based train control: With advancements in telecommunications and information technology, communication-bas­ed train control (CBTC) has emerged as the preferred solution globally. The latest techno­logies used in metro rail systems include dri­verless and unattended train operation using CBTC signalling with moving block technology instead of fixed block technology.
  • Automatic train control systems: Various automation technologies used in metro rail signalling systems have been combined into a single system called the automatic train control (ATC) system. The major components of a modern ATC system are automatic train protection (ATP), which has been used in the Bengaluru Metro Rail Project Phase I, the Mu­mbai Mo­norail Project Line 1 and the Pune Metro Rail Project; automatic train operation (ATO), which has been implemented in the Bengaluru Metro Rail Project Pha­se I and the Chennai Metro Rail Project; and automatic train supervision (ATS), for which the first-ever indigenously developed train control and supervision system was laun­ched on the Red Line of the Delhi metro in Febru­ary 2023. A continuous ATC system is proposed to be used for signalling and train control on the Delhi-Guru­gram-Shahjahan­pur-Neemrana-Behror-Alwar RRTS. It will comprise ATP, ATO and ATS systems. The key features of the Delhi-Meerut RRTS include European train control system L2 signalling on the long-term evolution backbone. Fur­ther, the Kol­kata Metro Rail­way is continuously moder­ni­sing its operational facilities to provide commuters with safer and more enjoyable travel experienc­es. KMRC has si­gned a new deal to purcha­se more rakes fr­om Bengaluru-based PSU Bharat Earth Mo­vers Limited. The rakes are fitted with ATC and CBTC software. Mean­while, Hitachi Rail has secured an order wo­rth $200 million for the deployment of au­tono­mo­us digital signalling in Phase II of the Chennai Metro project.
  • Ensuring safety and sustainability: Over the years, technology has played a key role in en­hancing the security of Indian metros. ATC, co­llision avoidance systems, and remote monitoring have reduced the likelihood of accidents. In addition, real-time traffic monitoring, adaptive traffic signals, and predictive analytics have im­proved traffic flow and safety.

Going forward

Contactless smart cards will continue to be the most preferred method of fare payment across the country despite the introduction of advan­ced modes of fare payment such as mobile ticketing and contactless bank cards. However, mobile ticketing is expected to increase due to the growing number of smartphone users in the country. As biometrics-based ticketing be­co­mes a reality, substantial costs will be saved as the demand for smart cards, paper tickets, etc. will reduce significantly.

While project execution has improved over the years, the increased level of activity in construction has highlighted the need for more efficient contracting practices, adoption of new and innovative materials and deployment of cost-effective construction techniques and state-of-the-art equipment.

Overall, technology has helped improve safety, promote sustainable practices, enhance efficiency and drive economic growth. A continued focus on technology will enable India to ma­intain its growth momentum and successfully navigate metro sector challenges.