By 2050, India expects to add over 400 million people to its cities, the largest urban migration in the world. This highlights the need to rethink and plan urban centres as sustainable and liveable cities. At the centre of urban planning is an effective mass transit system, which not only contributes to cleaner mobility but also facilitates the transit-oriented development of cities. In the past two decades, Indian cities have added over 870 km of operational metro rail network. At present, more than 1,000 km of metro rail projects are under implementation, and many are at the planning or proposal stage. In addition, lighter and more affordable alternatives to conventional heavy metro systems, such as MetroLite and MetroNeo, are being introduced in many small- and medium-sized cities. The regional rapid rail transit system (RRTS) is another emerging mode of transit for inter-city movement. The country’s metro rail network is expected to reach 5,000 km in the next two decades. With sustainability, indigenisation and enhanced passenger experience being the key focus areas, the urban mass transit sector is slated for exponential growth.
Mapping the network journey
The journey of India’s urban mass transit sector began with the launch of Kolkata Metro’s underground section in 1984. However, the operationalisation of the Delhi Metro in 2002 changed the trajectory of the sector. Expanding from 8 km in 2002 to over 390 km at present, Delhi Metro ushered in a new era of mass transit with an innovative and modern system that soon became the lifeline of the national capital. This success encouraged other Tier I cities to develop their own metro systems. As a result, metro rail systems are now operational in 15 cities, covering a network of over 870 km, registering a double-digit growth from 25 km in two cities in 2002. Over 580 km of network has been added in the past eight years. Moreover, the pace of progress has shown remarkable growth from a monthly average of 0.68 km of commissioned metro lines before May 2014 to 5.6 km per month (as of April 2023).
The government has been promoting the development of lighter mass transit systems such as MetroNeo and MetroLite for less densely populated cities. Despite passenger traffic nearing pre-Covid levels, these alternative transit modes are better suited for smaller cities due to low capex requirements and demand. For inter-city movement, the country’s first RRTS is coming up on the Delhi-Ghaziabad-Meerut route, which is expected to be completed in 2025.
The rapid adoption of mass transit systems can be attributed to a favourable policy environment, budgetary support, multilateral aid and the need for cleaner mobility to decongest roads and decarbonise the transport sector. The urban rail sector has come a long way, with standards in place for metro systems and their components, as well as minimum local sourcing requirements for promoting indigenisation.
The public-private partnership (PPP) model has seen limited success in the sector so far, with Hyderabad Metro Phase I being the only operational PPP project. That said, private participation is being encouraged in the form of unbundled PPPs in areas such as fare collection, production, operations and maintenance (O&M) of rolling stock, provision of signalling and other technology systems and transit-oriented development. Additionally, there are PPP opportunities in low capex systems such as MetroNeo and MetroLite.
Capex in the metro rail sector grew at a compound annual growth rate of 9 per cent between 2018-19 and 2022-23. With fast-paced developments in the sector, it has more than doubled in 2021-22 over the previous year. The budgetary outlay for 2023-24 is estimated to be Rs 231 billion, an increase of 14 per cent over 2022-23.
Metro corporations are moving towards driverless technology for greater operational flexibility. Currently adopted in Delhi Metro, driverless coaches are also being procured by Mumbai, Chennai and Bengaluru Metro.
Open loop ticketing based on Europay, Mastercard or Visa contactless technology is emerging as an alternative ticketing method, with Kochi and Nagpur Metro among the few to deploy it. QR code ticketing is being rapidly adopted across metro systems such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai. Metro corporations are upgrading their automatic fare collection systems to comply with National Common Mobility Card regulations.
Devices and internet of things sensors have been deployed along tracks and inside stations to enhance operator awareness and ensure the security of the rail system. Drone-based light detection and ranging surveys are being conducted as part of the preliminary design and planning of projects. Construction processes are increasingly adopting mechanisation and technology, including building information modelling, 100 per cent precast construction, robotics and integrated project monitoring software.
Developing indigenous capabilities
The government is heavily encouraging indigenisation within the sector, aiming to achieve 100 per cent indigenisation by 2047. The country has developed the i-Automatic Train Supervision signalling system, the universal driver training simulator for rolling stock and the supervisory control and data acquisition system for asset management, all of which are currently deployed in Delhi Metro. Additionally, indigenous platform screen doors are being installed in the Delhi-Meerut RRTS.
Companies that are currently manufacturing coaches in India are Alstom, Titagarh Rail Systems Limited and BEML Limited. Further, several companies have also started manufacturing various metro components in the country, such as Knorr-Bremse AG, Faiveley Transport, Autometers Alliance Limited and ABB Limited. Last year, Titagarh Wagons unveiled the first aluminium Make in India train for Pune Metro. The company won an order for the design, manufacture and supply of 102 metro coaches for Pune Metro in 2019. The development of indigenous capabilities has reduced the reliance on foreign vendors, which previously held a monopoly in rolling stock, signalling and telecom systems, electrical and electromechanical components, and civil engineering structures. In addition, construction contracts are dominated by domestic players such as Larsen and Toubro Limited, Afcons Infrastructure Limited, Hindustan Construction Company Limited and Nagarjuna Construction Company Limited. Further, consultancy services are being provided for global metro projects. For instance, Delhi Metro is providing consultancy services to Dhaka Metro (Bangladesh).
Exploring innovative financing
The urban transport sector has faced challenges in implementing the PPP model due to issues such as overestimation of ridership, delays in land acquisition and right-of-way approvals and cost escalations due to changes in design scopes. Hence, metro authorities are exploring innovative ways to incentivise private sector involvement. Outsourcing O&M activities, asset management, fare collection and integration, and real estate development in and around transit corridors are a few areas where private investment is being encouraged.
Metro rail corporations are adopting renewable energy on a large scale to reduce their operational costs while harnessing sustainability. Delhi Metro Rail Corporation received 35 per cent of its total energy supply from renewable energy and aims to step it up to 50 per cent by 2031. Approximately 30 per cent of its renewable energy comes from the off-site share in the Rewa solar power plant in Madhya Pradesh, 4 per cent from rooftop solar panels and 1 per cent from the waste-to-energy plant in Ghazipur. Kochi Water Metro, a first-of-its-kind in the country, is expected to reduce 44,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions every year. It is a sustainable alternative to land-based transport and will be fully operational by 2035. A solar power station has been planned for the water metro, similar to the one set up by Cochin International Airport Limited, to run and operate the entire fleet of boats on solar power.
According to projects tracked by India Infrastructure Research, a metro rail network of over 2,600 km will be added across the country by 2028, including MetroLite, MetroNeo and RRTS corridors. By 2050, more than 75 cities in India are expected to have mass rail transit systems, with the network spanning over 5,000 km. Given the substantial expansion of the metro rail network in the country, the National Metro Rail Knowledge Centre will be launched to provide stakeholders a forum for communication and cooperation. It will also promote research and development initiatives, encourage technology transfer and knowledge sharing, and offer training and capacity building opportunities for metro rail personnel.