MRVC CMD RS Khurana talks about the slew of initiatives being undertaken by Mumbai Railway Vikas Corporation
MRVC is executing a number of suburban rail improvement projects in Mumbai to reduce over-crowding and meet future traffic requirements. The corporation is also involved in the planning and development of a Mumbai Suburban Rail system. With new foot-over-bridges and AC trains planned, MRVC CMD RS Khurana talks about the slew of initiatives being undertaken.
Can you tell us about the ongoing projects under MRVC?
We have completed the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP) 1. MUTP 2 is divided into 2A, 2B and 2C. 2A and 2C are finished. 2B has four new line projects and two have been handled by MRVC. The Andheri-Goregaon line on the western suburban corridor was opened last year and Thane-Diva corridor on the central line will be opened next year. The six-lane Mumbai Central to Borivali is being done by the Western Railways, while the 5th and 6th lines between CST and Kurla are being implemented by the Central Railways. These projects are under progress and should be completed by 2021.
Up to Borivali and Kalyan there will be separate corridors for slow, fast and long-distance trains. At present, mostly main line trains use fast-tracks, as a result trains are delayed.
Under the ongoing MUTP 3, western suburban lines will be extended till Dahanu separating existing two mainline tracks. A suburban corridor will be constructed from Panvel on the western line to Karjat on the central side to reduce travel time to Karjat from Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station (CSMT) by half an hour. An elevated 3.5 km corridor will be constructed between Kalwa on the central line to Airoli to enable trains from Kalyan to Navi Mumbai to reduce congestion at the Thane station.
As per the directions of [railway minister] Piyush Goyal, a comprehensive detailed project report (DPR) named MUTP 3A has been passed in the budget. It has been submitted to the government of Maharashtra and the ministry of railways for approval. The improvements on Mumbai suburban will not be incremental; there will be a quantum jump.
It has a proposal for a fast train elevated corridor from CSMT to Panvel on metro standards. This will connect the new airport at Ulwe. Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) will connect the old airport to this line to further connect it with the new airport. The Virar-to-Panvel corridor will open up these hinterland areas for affordable development, townships, transit oriented development and different schemes.
The Harbour line, at present going from CSMT to Goregaon, will be extended to Borivali. Two additional tracks will be laid to separate the slow and fast suburban corridors from mainline between Borivali and Virar, which will enable additional services in this area. Between Kalyan and Asangaon a third line is being laid by the railways and an additional line is proposed to create a suburban corridor from Kalyan to Asangaon. An additional suburban corridor from Kalyan to Badlapur is also proposed along with major work at Kalyan yard to ease out traffic movement.
What is communication based train control (CBTC)? When will it be implemented?
The CBTC signaling system has been proposed on the Harbour line, CSMT – Kalyan central line corridor and Churchgate-Virar on the western line. This can enable running of up to 24 trains in an hour during peak traffic hours as against 17 trains at present. The train becomes a moving block communicating with each other and giving all the information to a computer that will decide the distance required between trains and their speed. At present, we have fixed signals every 500 metres and only when the train in between the section clears you can send another train.
Once we receive sanctions work on CST-Panvel corridor we will start, as there are no main line trains there. We will set up equipment in train EMU’s in the driver’s cab that will collect data like running speed, breaking power, etc. from the cab and communicate with us. All train engines have to have this. The CSTM to Kalyan and Churchgate to Virar lines are subject to separation of tracks from the main line tracks under the MUTP 2 targets.
What steps are being taken to reduce fatal accidents on suburban tracks?
To contain fatalities on suburban tracks, work on trespass control at 12 stations was included in MUTP 2 and has been completed. Thirteen foot-over-bridges (FOBs), 10 interlinkages between FOBs, 24 escalators, 11 lifts, green patches at the ends of platforms and fencing were provided to ease out the passenger flow and hinder trespass. On the basis of trespass study conducted by GRP and JJ School of Arts and Architecture, 36 locations where intervention was required in addition to provision of boundary walls at various locations were identified. We will construct 26 FOBs and two subways in addition to link ways and FOB extensions in this work. Besides the boundary walls for about 63 km length will be constructed by the railways. With all these efforts there should be a major reduction in trespass. With AC trains coming in trespassing will come down as AC trains have door closers. Within next 10-15 years we plan to replace all suburban trains with only AC trains.
What steps are being taken to prevent recurrence of tragedies like those at Elphinstone Road station and Andheri FOB?
At Elphinstone Road even though the bridge was old there was no breakage or failure. It was totally a human tragedy. After that tragedy, the IRSDC team surveyed many stations and planned many FOBs; we will construct 28. The FOBs should be ready in two years. We have constructed one at Tilak Nagar in 75 days. Unlike the greenfield projects, in this case we have running trains and permissions from various quarters are required. At Andheri many structures were old. There is a system of inspection. Many areas which are hidden require thorough checking for which trains have to stop which in the Mumbai suburban railway system is a big thing. For four hours at night when trains stop there are multiple demands from various quarters for fixing and maintenance. Along with IIT-B all these FOBs and ROBs are being inspected by the railways. This has now led to the closure of the Lower Parel ROB which is unsafe and very busy.
We have also proposed station improvements to 19 stations to ease passenger movement by providing decks, FOBs, interlinking of FOBs, escalators and lifts.
Under MUTP3, 47 AC suburban trains are to be implemented. What is the current status?
At present, there are total 250 non-AC rakes in central and western railways and one AC rake. In addition, the process to procure 47 AC rakes under MUTP 3 has been started. With the addition of new corridors in MUTP 3 & MUTP 3 A we will require additional rakes. Therefore, in MUTP 3 A, 210 AC rakes, with their support and maintenance systems, have been proposed.
But the AC train fare is high at present.
The monthly AC ticket pass from Churchgate to Borivali costs Rs 1,640. Compare it with what you will pay for a cab ride on the same route. These rates are about half that of Delhi Metro and a third of Mumbai Metro. Train journey from Dadar to Churchgate costs Rs 5. An auto rickshaw charges Rs 4-5 per km and costs Rs 40-50 for a short journey. There has to be some rationality, you cannot have a totally free system. The idea is to have an efficient and economical system. Comparing all, our preference is AC trains which are coming up in a big way. We aim to provide regular services which will require maintenance facilities for rolling stocks, stabling lines, etc. All these factors have been added in the MUTP 3A project under a sanctioned cost of Rs 54,777 crore. With more AC trains coming in, the fares will come down and generate revenue.
How do you generate funds for existing railway projects?
MUTP 3 is Rs 11,000 crore railway project. We took a loan of around Rs 6,000 crore. We levy a surcharge of 18 percent on Mumbai suburban trains, which we have proposed to increase to 25 percent. With this surcharge we pay back the loans and the balance amount is shared between the railway ministry and the government of Maharashtra.
As per a 2014 PWC report, Mumbai suburban railways is operating at a deficit, which will accumulate to Rs18,300 crore by 2023-24.
We are operating in a deficit of Rs 1,500 crore annually. Our ticket rates are low. We levy a surcharge of around 18 paisa per passenger km as against '2.50 per passenger/pkm by the Delhi Metro and around Rs 3.50 per passenger/pkm by the Mumbai Metro. We are exploring commercial developments at stations which are being planned by the Indian Railway Stations Development Corporation (IRSDC). If people get facilities they will also pay.
IRSDC is planning some major policy decisions like increasing the lease period from 45 years at present. It is at an advanced stage with the Railway Board. We will do the footwork as IRSDC is based in Delhi. There are many stations with hardly any space for commercial development and require improvement, like Andheri, Goregaon and Borivali where we have provided more decks and area. We have to plan for each station separately. At Andheri with tracks on ground floor we took the station up on the first floor. We are planning to carry out improvements at 19 stations now. Due to shortage of walking space at stations we had recommended removal of all stalls from platforms and shifting them at the entrance.
When do you plan to implement the Integrated Ticketing System? Will it be store value payment system or account based?
MMRDA will soon come up with a tender. We are coordinating on behalf of the railways. We have recommended the account-based system with the provision for store-based system. As per recent developments, the finance ministry wants a store-based value for all cards including credit cards so that even small vendors like paanwalas use store value from your credit card. In stored value, a person will not require a mobile or internet connection for taking money from the store value. He will be able to take money from the machine which will have a balance of Rs 2,000 or so and from there you keep on adding to it. MMRDA wants only account-based system. Whatever instructions come from the finance ministry will have to be followed. We should have it in two years or may be earlier. It will be a single operating card for all transport system including autos in Mumbai.
What about adding more ticket counters and toilets at stations?
Instead of having ticket counters at stations we are going for apps in a big way. In three years most ticket counters will be done away with. For toilets, railways have launched a major drive to repair and maintain all the toilets. WhatsApp numbers were announced by the central and western railways for commuters to post pictures of broken/dirty toilets so that railways can rectify them.
What challenges do you face in establishing infrastructure in Mumbai?
Working in Mumbai is very challenging as these are no greenfield projects but all are brownfield or rather redfield. All the trains are running and you can’t stop them. There are space constraints, time constraints and we also have zero tolerance for unsafe operations. While setting up infrastructure we have to take care of the passenger movement and plan our work in a way that there is minimal disturbance to the passenger movement and hampering of running trains services. For example, while redoing Andheri station initially for about two years nobody knew something was coming up as we quietly moved the stalls and made the foundation.
Is coordination a problem when dealing with multiple agencies?
Yes, coordination with multiple agencies is very difficult. For example, to construct an FOB we have to coordinate with the Western Railway and take permission of the commissioner of railway safety. If the area falls outside, then permission has to be taken from the local commissioner or other concerned authority. Things have changed over the last couple of years. People are more responsive now.
(The interview appears in November 15, 2018 edition)