Railways opts for standard gauge first time in 160 yrs

More than 160 years after the first train ran on the Indian Railways, the ministry, for the first time, is ready to give up its biggest technical insistence — the need to run all trains on the broad gauge.

dna has learnt that the railway ministry has agreed to have the Rs19,513-crore Oval Maidan-Churchgate-Virar elevated corridor on the four feet and eight-and-a-quarter inches standard gauge as opposed to the five feet and six inches broad gauge.

With this change, the width of the eight-coach trains on the elevated corridor will come down from 3.66 metres to 3.2 metres which, incidentally, is the width of coaches of the Delhi Metro.

In India, long-distance broad gauge coaches are 10 feet and six inches wide. Mumbai’s local trains are an exception even in the broad gauge family with a width of 12 feet, thanks to the massive crowding the suburban system sees. While a standard gauge coach accommodates less people, it navigates bends better and can also move at high speeds far better than the broad gauge coaches.

The move comes on the back of concerns that the Oval Maidan-Churchgate-Virar project, which will need anything between 25 and 35 rakes to have a full-fledged daily service, will be left handicapped with respect to the purchase of trains as the world’s biggest manufacturers of trains now produce just standard gauge coaches.

Officials said getting Indian manufacturers like Chennai’s Integral Coach Factory to produce that many trains in a short span of time will be a tough ask.

Speaking to dna, Girish Pillai, executive director (infrastructure and public private partnerships), railway board, refused to confirm or deny the news. “It is a PPP project with a complete new alignment. So, there are lots of discussions going on over several things. It is early days; I wouldn’t like to say a decision has been taken either way on which gauge to use,” said Pillai.


Indian Railways’ need for speed

There are multiple agencies working towards building high-speed rail corridors and the Railway Ministry is doing pre-feasibility studies.

That India needs high-speed rail systems — trains running at approximately 250-350 km per hour-speed is known. But, it would augur well for different agencies of the Government to identify one dense stretch, pool in all efforts to implement such a project fast. The lessons from this stretch could be applied to some other stretches.


At present, there are multiple agencies working towards building high-speed rail corridors. The Railway Ministry is doing pre-feasibility studies for six stretches across the country. Then there are some State Governments which are doing parallel exercises for running high-speed trains. The Kerala Government has commissioned a pre-feasibility study for high-speed rail (HSR) along the West coast of Kerala — Thiruvananthapuram-Kasargod. Similarly, the Haryana Government is evaluating running of high-speed trains on the Delhi-Sonepat-Panipat route.


The costs involved are huge. The Thiruvananthapuram-Ernakulam link is expected to cost in the range of Rs 40,000 crore. Similarly, the Pune-Mumbai-Ahmedabad corridor is expected to cost more than Rs 50,000 crore. How will they be funded?

In this context, it is important to note that for the Railway Ministry proposals, even the cost of the pre-feasibility studies is being shared with the various State Governments, who are likely to benefit.

Given such costs, all implementing agencies have admitted that these projects will have to be taken in public-private partnership (PPP) mode with private participation. The exact model of PPP will have to be evaluated and decided. That process itself could take four years at the minimum — going by the time taken by the Government to decide such issues for railways’ factories and highways in India.

Should the whole project be given out to a consortium on design-build-finance-operate-transfer basis? Or should the project be unbundled — by breaking it up into station management, train operating companies — with the network being owned and managed by another agency?

“Which agency should run the trains? Who should then build and maintain the infrastructure,” asked Mr V. K. Dutt, former additional Member (Electrical), Indian Railways’, while speaking at a seminar on high-speed trains, jointly organised by the Institution of Engineers (India) – Delhi State Centre, IET (UK) – Delhi Local Network and Institution of Railway Electrical Engineers (IREE).


Then there are some technical issues. Should the new lines be made interoperable with the current system? Simply put, should the new rolling stock be such that they can move on the existing railway lines, something that France did? This is desirable because it would allow the new train sets to access much deeper areas on the existing network.

But this requires a lot of extra time and money because the existing railway lines and signalling systems have to be upgraded. It also means that the new network has to be built on a broad gauge — globally, the railway lines and rolling stock are on standard gauge.

Many experts who are outside the Indian Railways’ system per se, favour a non-interoperable standard gauge network.

The views of DMRC, which is doing the study for the Kerala Government, are well known. They are all for standard gauge — Mr E. Sreedharan has publicly stated his disappointment with the Indian Railways for not allowing the initial Delhi Metro network to be built on broad gauge. But Indian Railways has traditionally been quite rigid on this issue, insisting on interoperability.

What should be the proposed revenue box model? What share of the revenue can be taken out by monetising land? Who should be made to pay for the development — there have been examples like Manchester, where all beneficiaries — corporates and users — were made to share the cost.


Pricing of tickets is another issue. The high-speed trains — while requiring Government support — cannot be allowed to become a tool for populist measures.

“Do you want to target the aam admi (common man)? TGV — the high-speed train of French Railways — is approximately 20-30 per cent cheaper than some other European railways running high-speed trains. It enjoys an 80 per cent load factor,” says Mr Michel Testard, Indian Business Development Consultant to the SNCF (French Railways).

Mr Testard suggests: “Target a stretch — which is on an even terrain — that connects two cities separated by a distance of 300 km or so; and each city should have a population of at least 10 million.” The even terrain is important because of the cost implications — the cost of building one km of railway line could double in difficult terrain, such as mountainous region or those with water bodies.

These are just some key questions that have to be addressed before the projects start getting implemented. After all, it took almost 30-35 years for Delhi to get its metro system, after it was first proposed in 1972-75.


A tale of Bangalore and Delhi Metro

The metro network in Bangalore started operations a few months ago. It covers a relatively small stretch of about seven kilometres.

In comparison, the Delhi Metro has been operating its network for almost a decade, and now covers a distance of over 190 kilometres.

Yet, a comparison between the two networks will tell you a lot about the way public transport projects are conceived, executed and operated in India.
And there are obvious lessons for those who intend to embark on similar projects planned for several cities across the country.

The Bangalore Metro network was initially conceived as a public-private partnership in 1993, almost at around the same time as the Delhi Metro idea.

The difference was that while the Bangalore Metro could not make headway on the project for almost a decade, breaking its head over how it could implement the correct concessionaire agreement with the prospective operator, the Delhi Metro stayed away from the PPP model and set up a project in which the Centre and the state government were equal partners.

It began implementing the project from 1995 and, by 2002, trains began running on a short stretch of about five kilometres. That perhaps is the first lesson. How effective is the PPP model in public transport projects?

The Bangalore Metro explored various options and even did the unthinkable by asking the prospective bidders of the project to indicate along with their bids the nature of the concessionaire agreement that they would prefer.

Little did it realise then that the framing of a concessionaire agreement should have preceded the bidding process, so that the bidders made their offers on that basis.

Fortunately, the Bangalore Metro soon recognised the problems with the PPP model, opted for what the Delhi Metro did, and work on it began in 2003.

It is, therefore, important for policy makers to realise that the choice of the PPP model is no guarantee for ensuring efficient and smooth execution of a public transport project.

Whatever be the model, the project promoters should get the basics right and follow the well-established principles of any model of executing a project. This is not rocket science.

There is no reason why the Bangalore Metro should have wasted ten years before discarding the PPP model and allowing the Centre and the state government to be the joint owners of the project. Both models can work.

If you opt for the PPP model, make sure that the concessionaire agreement with the operator is foolproof and fixes all responsibilities in a transparent way.

Similarly, operational freedom and accountability through an institutional framework are a necessary precondition for the success of a metro project where the Centre and the state are joint owners.

The Delhi Metro’s execution and operation stood out for another reason – it had E Sreedharan as the managing director, who by the time he came to head the project had acquired an icon-like status in executing railway projects.

Few in the government system or outside could stand in the way if Sreedharan decided a certain course of action. It’s true that the Indian Railways succeeded in forcing the broad-gauge model for the first phase of the Delhi Metro, against the wishes of Sreedharan.

But the second phase did see the introduction of standard gauge, an indication that the Delhi Metro managing director would eventually have his way whatever the nature of his opposition.

Sreedharan executed the Delhi Metro project with efficiency, speed and only a few minor accidents. He introduced a lean management structure.

But he also showed scant regard for the established processes for the selection of contractors or vendors, and decided to choose his own methods.

Since he enjoyed the reputation of a man of integrity and had tasted of success as well, the voices of protest against the way he ran the project were few and muted.

In a system with an acute scarcity of efficient managers with integrity, Sreedharan enjoyed leeway that would be denied to most others in similar situations.

In sharp contrast, the Bangalore Metro project is being executed without a highly visible leader like Sreedharan. The managing director of the Bangalore Metro Transport Corporation is N Sivasailam, a mechanical engineer who joined the Indian Administrative Service in 1985.

He maintains a low profile, but that in no way has adversely affected the efficiency of execution in the project, although there were delays in the early stages of its implementation.

The project is running efficiently and it has already begun earning profit on the short stretch on which it operates. It has a long way to go, but the Bangalore Metro has established that an efficiently executed project need not be a one-man show. Instead, it can be the result of team work helped by a strong institutional framework.

Even in tariff-setting, the Bangalore Metro has charted a new path that is more transparent and participative than that followed by the Delhi Metro.

The recommendations of the tariff advisory committee of the Delhi Metro are binding on the operator. However, the composition of the committee and the nature of its recommendations are not immune to political influence or pressure.

In the case of the Bangalore Metro, tariffs are set transparently after a non-governmental organisation conducts open consultations among all stakeholders including commuters.

Clearly, the new metro networks coming up in different parts of the country have a lot to learn from the experiences of Delhi and Bangalore.


Trial run begins on first standard gauge Metro line

NEW DELHI: On Wednesday, India’s first standard gauge Metro train rolled out for a trial run in the city. And as the sleek, shimmering contraption dashed past on the under-construction Inderlok-Mundka line, India found itself a place in the list of countries that use the standard gauge.

Marginally narrower than the broad gauge lines, the standard gauge, which is being introduced in the city in keeping with international standards, has several advantages. While it assures passengers of comfort and speed, it cuts down on civil and engineering costs of creating wider tunnels and bigger stations required for a broad gauge.

Explaining the reason for the shift from the broad gauge to the standard gauge, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation officials said the standard gauge allows easier access through congested areas. “Since Metro alignments have to pass through heavily congested areas, the standard gauge scores over the broad gauge, as it permits sharper curves and requires less land,” an official said.

Pointing out that the standard gauge was adopted by several cities, including Cairo, Madrid, Bangkok, Manila and Beijing, the official said: “In India, the first train, called the standard gauge prototype Metro train, will run through heavily built-up areas for optimal passenger utilisation. The Metro systems coming up in Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai will also have standard gauge.”

During the trial, the train will run 6.8 km between five stations, from Mundka to Peeragarhi, and it will initially undergo dynamic testing for about a week to check its suspension, safety, reliability and passenger comfort.

“After clearance is obtained from the Research Designs and Standards Organisation (RDSO), Lucknow, probably by the first week of August, more trial runs will be conducted during which the train’s integration with system equipment such as signalling, telecom and platforms will be tested,” said a DMRC spokesperson.

The extensive train testing procedures are being carried out, since it is the first time the standard gauge Metro trains are being introduced in India. Listing the features of the new train, the spokesperson said: “The front of the standard gauge train has a single glass pane as can be seen in cars instead of two separate panes as in the existing trains. Other features include Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras in and outside the coaches, power supply connections inside coaches to charge mobiles and laptops; better humidity control and microprocessor-controlled disc brakes.”

The train will also have external display boards on side windows of each coach so that passengers can view the terminal stations while standing on platforms. Digital route maps will be provided inside coaches instead of stickers and four passenger information boards will be used in each coach.

For the DMRC’s second phase, standard gauge tracks have been provided on the Inderlok-Mundka, Central Secretariat-Badarpur and the Airport Express Line. “These three lines are being built on standard gauge — 4 feet 8.5 inches — as per the international norms. The Corporation will procure 48 standard gauge trains from a consortium of Mitsubishi, ROTEM, Mitsubishi Electric Corporation and Bharat Earth Movers Ltd. Of these, three, including the prototype being tested, have already arrived at the Mundka depot,” the spokesperson said.

The Inderlok–Mundka line is 15.15 km long and has 14 stations. It is scheduled to be opened by March next, but the DMRC is confident that the line will be ready for commissioning by the end of this year.


Published in: on August 1, 2009 at 10:04 am  Leave a Comment  
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