India’s first semi-high-speed rail network: A new era for passengers
Over the last few years, the worldwide spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges for public transit systems. For developing economies like India, the success of high investment public transit systems will depend on how effectively we manage the dual challenge of affordability of services for commuters and long-term financial sustainability of projects.
In fact, the development of sustainable public transport systems will also be crucial to solve the multi-faceted problems that come with rapid urbanization. Sustainable transit systems are designed to improve the service quality, reduce pollution, increase the efficiency of transport networks and land usage, enhance the mobility of people with reduced mobility and ensure that the public transportation stakeholders work together instead of operating in silos.
In India, while metropolitan areas have developed well in terms of infrastructure, urbanisation has created a gap in tier two cities, where the sheer lack of opportunities, resources and transport logistics inevitably sees the population migrate, leading to congestion and immense pressure on resources.
Over the past few years, a similar phenomenon has been observed across our metro cities, which are now facing serious pressure on resources and public utilities. Although metro rail services are bringing in a modal shift towards public transport for intra-city travel, what has been missing is a high-speed, comfortable, and reliable mode of regional or intercity commute.
The RRTS: A transformative initiative
To fill this gap in regional commute and enable people to stay at urban nodes across the National Capital Region (NCR) and travel comfortably for employment, education, or healthcare, we will soon open the country’s first semi-high-speed regional rail network to the public, christened RRTS (Regional Rapid Transit System) or popularly known as ‘Regional Rail’. RRTS is a transformative initiative undertaken by the government for which the National Capital Region Transport Corporation (NCRTC) has been given the mandate to implement and operate.
For the RRTS project, we have adopted a three-pronged approach. This includes optimising CAPEX, ensuring O&M efficiency, and revenue enhancement.The three priority RRTS corridors will be interoperable, meaning trains can seamlessly move fromone corridor to another, and commuters can travel from one corridor to the other, without changing trains. Furthermore, we decided to adopt European Train Control System (ETCS) Level 2 Signalling. This helped in multiple vendor compatibility, thereby creating more competition, leading to competitive pricing and easy availability of spares in the future.
A noteworthy example of our value engineering initiatives for CAPEX optimization is the decision to run the local transit services in the city of Meerut on the same infrastructure developed for the Delhi-Ghaziabad-Meerut RRTS corridor, thereby saving more than USD 800 million of public exchequer.
We are working with leading organizations in the industry who have experience with the operations and maintenance of such systems. We have engaged a private operator through a Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) model for utilizing the expertise of the private sector and optimizing the manpower cost. Furthermore, activities related to the operation and maintenance of rolling stock have been bundled on a long-term basis under the procurement package of rolling stock to the OEM.
Customer centric approach
From the very beginning, we wanted to make the project unique – not just by the sheer speed at which the trains will run – but also with modern customer centric amenities that will make it stand class apart. One of the noteworthy features is the seamless integration of the RRTS network with other modes of public transit. This is in line with our ‘Commuter First’ approach wherein RRTS stations are integrated with the Indian Railways network, metro stations, airport, and bus depots, wherever possible. Multi-modal integration of mass public transit systems will lead to the creation of a huge ‘network-of-networks’, improve ridership, and help in long-term sustenance of these highly capital-intensive projects.
Fare collection will be integrated with the National Common Mobility Card (NCMC) scheme started by the Hon’ble Prime Minister under the ‘One Nation One Card’ initiative. This will enable seamless travel by commuters on RRTS, metro rail and other transport systems, besides improving ridership.Our proactive efforts towards non-fare box revenue include value capture financing and transit-oriented development.
Coming back to the industry-wide challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, we at NCRTC were able to navigate through such difficult times as we were prepared technologically. This helped us to swiftly transition to a work from home model for all our corporate employees, while our site officers were equipped with handling the crises with the requisite support, tools, and knowledge.
Construction on the 82km-long Delhi-Ghaziabad-Meerut RRTS corridor is in full swing. The corridor will have 25 stations, including two depots and one stabling yard. The Priority Section is scheduled to be operational by March 2023, with trial runs already underway. The complete corridor, along with Meerut Metro services, will be opened to the public by 2025.
With RRTS, we intend to usher in a new era of how people commute between cities. Once operational, not only do we expect it to de-congest the national capital, but the first RRTS corridor will take more than 100,000 private vehicles off the roads, thereby reducing approximately 2,50,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide in vehicular emissions per year.
In the years to come, economic development will mostly be driven by a few mega-regions, like the National Capital Region (NCR) in India, which will prove to be the engines of growth for the country. To enhance productivity of the overall region, provide better access to education, healthcare, employment opportunities, affordable housing, and enable polycentric development, a total of eight RRTS corridors have been identified for NCR. The three corridors prioritised for implementation are namely Delhi-Ghaziabad-Meerut, Delhi-Panipat, and Delhi-Gurugram-SNB-Alwar.
Author – Mr. Vinay Kumar Singh, Managing Director, National Capital Region Transport Corporation (NCRTC)
Total Comments - 0