Why not go for Surface Rail public transport instead of Metros/Rapid Bus system?

The blogger has always wondered why we don’t go for Mumbai Local train system in Indian cities instead of fancy metro? Mumbai local may not be as elegant but carries far larger number of passengers. Moreover, in some cities the existing train lines could be used to atleast connect some points in the city. This will save both costs and time.

Anyways, here is an interesting paper by experts in the matter making a case for surface rail. It is written by M Ravibabu of  Ministry of Railways and V Phani Sree of Jawaharlal Nehru Architecture and Fine Arts University:

Central, state and local governments have been investing in public transport infrastructure, especially on metro rail and bus rapid transit systems. However, surface rail-based transit systems, which are ubiquitous and cost-effective in India, have not received the same attention and investment. This paper assesses the viability of surface rail as an urban transit option, and looks at the conditions that would enable its integration into urban transit systems, while simultaneously meeting the needs of long-distance traffic.

The authors compare the costs and benefits of various Public transport options across major cities. They figure that surface rail is the most viable option in most:

The development of public transport has received a prominent place in the NUTP. In pursuance of this policy, governments at all levels are actively promoting BRTS and metro rails as viable options for public transport. This is also being advocated by various groups and commercial interests. In the process, surface rail, operated by Indian Railways, which has historically been closely intertwined with the development of many cities and still carries a substantial number of urban commuters, has been sidelined.

We established that the unit cost of capacity created by surface rail is one-twentieth that of a metro rail system and one-fourth that of a BRT system. Further, as it is upgradation of an existing system, the additional space required will be minimal. However, surface rail does not reach already built-up areas, and BRT systems or metro rail will be required to complement it. A review of 50 UAs having a population of more than one million has indicated that surface rail can be useful in 49 of them to carry urban and suburban traffi c. The UAs have 6,628 kilometres of rail network, which can be upgraded to carry urban traffic and inter-urban traffic. Compared to this, with the same investment, the current proposal is to create a metro network of 747 km in 10 UAs, and a regional rail network of 989 km limited to nine UAs. Given the substantial advantage surface rail has, the paper suggests that the proposed investment on metro rails, regional rail, and 50% of the investment on new roads in the Twelfth Five-Year Plan should be diverted for upgradation of surface rail.

The above investment, after revising for metro rail costs, works out to Rs 2,12,050 crore and would be available for upgradation of surface rail and associated infrastructure. With this investment, it would be possible to upgrade 6,628 km of suburban rail network, create new suburban networks of 3,000 km around some of important UAs, upgrade terminals in UAs, and develop connectivity.

Despite the seeming advantages, the most important bottleneck in implementing the new policy would be the institutional arrangements. The new policy should clearly mandate this. To facilitate a new institutional framework, this paper recommends setting up a joint review committee of the three apex policymaking bodies, the MoUD, MoR, and the Planning Commission. This would facilitate having a new regime where the central ministries and state governments can work toge ther to develop a more citizen-friendly urban transport system.

What is presented here is a macro picture at the national level, supported with a few examples that provide the basis for an appropriate policy. However, for any work to be initiated at the ground level, a lot of preparatory work has to be done. Hence, immediate action should be initiated to take up work at the level of UAs. This should be done by urban local bodies and local organisations associated with the railway under the guidance of the policy-formulating agencies.

Worth thinking about.

Somehow development has come to just doing new things. However, by fixing the older system and working on the same, lot can be done at fraction of costs and time. India particularly is in a urban mess taking decades to develop these new systems. I mean even if we can’t do away with the fixation of new systems, may be till they come up we can look at such solutions…Anyways, given the population pressures, both can be used over a period of time..

One Response to “Why not go for Surface Rail public transport instead of Metros/Rapid Bus system?”

  1. Bhushan Patil Says:

    It is factually correct. No point making huge investments in Metros that cost Rs. 350 Crs per kms while normal railway network cost about rs. 20 crs per kms

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