Ridership is low
Coaches are overcrowded
Metro trains in Delhi have four coaches and a maximum capacity of 1,400 commuters. The frequency of trains ranges from 5 minutes during peak hours to 25 minutes on some corridors. Overcrowding is turning out to be a major problem, primarily during rush hour.
The major intersection stations— Rajiv Chowk and Kashmere Ga - te—are where the crisis unfolds daily. Richa Narang, 23-year-old student of Amity University at Noida, often travels between Noida and Rajiv Chowk. She and her friends like to spend time in the arcades of Connaught Place, but dread the evening rush at the Rajiv Chowk Metro station. “I often skip two trains before boarding the third one, only to find myself crushed between people,” said Narang. “DMRC should reserve one coach for women,” she suggested.
“We are increasing the number of coaches from four to six. But crowding at stations like Rajiv Chowk will stay for a while as these are the points from where people can interchange between different Metro corridors,” said Dayal. “We have placed an order for 83 trains with Bombardier Transportation India Ltd and for 48 trains with BEML, Bengaluru,” added Dayal.
“Delhi Metro stations are designed to accommodate eight-coach trains. So why is DMRC running only four-coach trains?” asked Bharat Singal, director general of Delhi’s Institute of Urban Transport, research institute under the Union Ministry of Urban Development. DMRC has no clear answers. And this when the Metro is carrying less than half the projected commuters.
A million commuters only
The actual ridership figures are way off the initial projections. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) rapped DMRC for the shortfall in the ridership and cited high fare structure compared to other modes of public transport as the reason. In its audit report on phase-I of the Metro, CAG said according to the 1995 projection, 3.18 million passenger trips per day were expected in 2005. The subsequent projection of 2003 showed daily ridership of 2.26 million. But in November 2007 the Metro had only 0.66 million riders per day. Even now, in March 2010, daily ridership is only one million.
The CAG report blamed low ridership on the fare structure, lack of proper connectivity and a feeder bus system for areas adjoining the Metro stations. It also said despite low ridership, there was congestion during peak hours. The congestion was attributed to “factors such as lower number of passenger cars, suboptimal speed over the rail network, lower frequency of trains and absence of differential fares during peak hours”.
According to Sudhir Badami, a transport planner in Mumbai, inflated ridership projections are often used to justify a capital-intensive Metro project. “Delhi Metro is not the only one with incorrect projection figures. When proposed, Kolkata Metro had projected a ridership of 1.1 million per day. But actual usage is only 0.45 million a day,” said Badami.
On a different gauge
Delhi Metro is possibly the world’s only underground rail project that runs both on the broad and standard gauge. Broad gauge has 1.6 m distance between the two rail tracks, whereas the standard gauge tracks are 1.4 m apart.
The 65.10 km of Metro’s phase-I are in the broad gauge; the remaining 348 km in the standard gauge. The two kinds of tracks are there as a result of different ways in which ministry of railways and the DMRC view the matter.
“We wanted to adopt the standard gauge, the international norm, but the railway ministry wanted broad gauge Metro because Indian railway runs on this gauge,” explained Dayal. This matter was referred to a group of ministers, which initially ruled in favour of broad gauge. Phase-I was therefore built on broad gauge.
But DMRC pushed the matter and got its way; the government then ruled in favour of the standard gauge. “It becomes easier to import technology and become part of the world market if our Metros run on the standard gauge,” Dayal said. “Then why the delay in getting more Metro coaches?” asked Singal.
This is a question DMRC dodged. “Questions about manufacture and supply of coaches should be asked to the respective companies,” Dayal said. The coach manufacturing companies, though, are not forthcoming on the supply gap. The transnational Bombardier Transportation, world’s largest rail equipment manufacturing company, has set up a coach-making factory near Vadodara in Gujarat to supply coaches to DMRC. It has bagged a US $700 million contract from DMRC to supply 424 broad gauge coaches by December 2010.
DMRC has placed an order for another 48 (standard gauge) trains with a consortium of Mitsubishi-Rotem- Mitsubishi Electrical-BEML. Bombardier has so far supplied only 28 trains and BEML 17 trains. Despite repeated requests both Bombardier and BEML refused to comment.
The difference between broad gauge and standard gauge Metro is not just a difference of 0.2 m between the two tracks. It is a difference in the carrying capacity of coaches that run on them. A standard gauge coach can carry 350 persons whereas the broad gauge Metro coach can hold 450 commuters. Adoption of broad gauge could have eased the present crisis, said V K J Rane, former managing director of Indian Railway Construction Company (IRCON). “There was a strong techno-economical reason to push for broad gauge Metro in India. Broad gauge coaches are wider and can transport more people,” said Rane. A four-coach train now carries 1,400 people; a broad gauge Metro would carry 1,800 commuters.
Broad gauge Metro has other benefits as well. The imported standard gauge coach costs Rs 10 crore, whereas an indigenously manufactured broad gauge coach would cost only Rs 2 crore. “The Indian Railways run on the broad gauge and rail factories are geared towards manufacturing such coaches,” said Singal.
Since standard gauge Metros carry less people and are capital intensive, financial returns are limited. These then need a high subsidy from the government. “Introduction of indigenously manufactured broad gauge coaches can reduce fare cost by one-third,” said Rane. Operational cost of an indigenous broad gauge Metro would also be 40 per cent less.
The standard gauge coaches now have sophisticated signalling for a train frequency of two minutes but no city in India is planning for such two-minute headway. “Then why spend so much money on the signalling system,” asked Rane. Now that Delhi Metro has both broad and standard gauges on its tracks, these incompatible systems will require DMRC to maintain two separate systems of operation.
India’s population density and daily trips are higher compared to developed countries. “The standard gauge cannot meet our requirements. There is no techno-economic analysis behind introduction of standard gauge Metros across India,” added Rane. Incidentally, cities abroad have realized the merit of broad gauge Metro and are introducing them now. For instance, in 2003 the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) in San Francisco chose broad gauge over standard gauge.
Following in Delhi’s footsteps, all Indian cities are now going in for standard gauge Metro. Mumbai, with one of the highest population densities in the world, too has adopted a standard gauge Metro and construction of the first corridor between Versova and Ghatkopar is on. CSR Nanjing China is supplying standard gauge coaches for the Mumbai Metro.
Where Delhi Metro stations can accommodate eight coaches, Mumbai’s Metro stations will accommodate a maximum of six coaches. Even at the planned capacity, Metro will fail to meet the daily trips demand. Against a demand of 30,547 peak-hour-peakdirection traffic (PHPDT) in 2031 on the Versova-Ghatkopar corridor, the planned capacity is only 23,560 PHPDT (see table: ‘Mumbai’s coping capacity’). “These figures tell us that Metro alone cannot meet the city’s daily trips demand. The need of the hour is a bus rapid transit system, which is well-integrated with other modes of public transport,” said Badami.
A detailed feasibility study for mass transit system in Mumbai was carried out during 1997-2000. This study recommended a mass transit corridor from the Andheri to Ghatkopar. This study was updated by Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) in May 2004 when it unveiled a master plan. DMRC then recommended to extend Andheri- Ghatkopar section to Versova and identified it as priority corridor for implementation.
Mumbai Metro project is divided into three phases, with a length of 146.5 km at a cost of Rs 19,525 crore. Phase-I is being implemented on a build-own-operate basis for 35 years. It is being led by a consortium, Mumbai Metro One Private Limited, a joint venture company formed by Reliance Energy Limited; Veolia Transport, France; and MMRDA. The cost of phase-I is Rs 2,356 crore. It is expected to carry 0.6 million passengers a day.
DMRC is a joint venture between government of India and the Delhi government. The aim was to provide a modern and less polluting mass transport system for the city.
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.
Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.