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Urban Rail transit in India

The transport sector plays an important role in the economic development of the country. A relation between the quantity and quality of transport infrastructure and the level of economic development is apparent. When transport systems are efficient, they provide economic and social opportunities and benefits that result in positive effects such as better accessibility to markets, employment and additional investments. The most fundamental impact of transportation relates to the physical capacity to convey passengers and goods and the associated costs to support this mobility.

India’s growing economy has witnessed a rise in demand for transport infrastructure and services in the recent years. According to the technological developments, people’s necessities have changed. They are more interested in exploring new ways for a better transportation system. Even though, many kinds of transport types have been innovated, the rail transport has emerged as one of the most dependable modes of transport in terms of safety.

Rail is critical to the competitiveness of many industries and the economies of many states. It provides the long-distance, line-haul component of truck-rail intermodal moves. It serves the nation’s seaports and facilitates international trade and also strengthens country’s national security by permitting rapid military mobilization. In addition to this, railway transporting is the most economical transportation mode due to trains’ low energy consumption, independence of oil, low costs and huge capacity.

Rail transport been evolved into a modern, complex and sophisticated system used both in urban and cross-country networks over long distances; providing a vital usable system when other services are disrupted. Trains are faster and the least affected by usual weather turbulences like rain or fog, when compared to others. It is better organised than any other medium of transport. It has fixed routes and schedules and the services are more certain, uniform and regular compared to other modes of transport.

Growth of Indian Railways

Population and economic growth has fostered urbanization in the country and the number of urban towns and cities has drastically increased. It has led to changes in Indian railway system which has helped people to remain connected by providing them with better travel options.  The Urban railways have comforted lives by providing various services through Tram systems, Suburban Rail or Commuter, Monorail, Light Rail and Rapid Transit Metro Trains.


Trams were introduced in many cities in late 19th century, though almost all of these were phased out. The tram system in the city of Kolkata, West Bengal, India, operated by the Calcutta Tramways Company (CTC), is the only tram network operating in India. The oldest operating electric tram system in Asia, it has been running since 1902. The Calcutta Tramways Company (Now under WBTC) is in the process of upgrading the existing tramway network at a cost of ₹240 million (US$3.6 million).

Suburban Railways

Suburban rail plays a major role in the public transport system of many major Indian cities. It is a rail service between a central business district and the suburbs, a conurbation or other locations that draw large numbers of people on a daily basis. These trains are also referred to as “local trains” or “locals”. The first suburban rail system in India is the Mumbai Suburban Railway which started operations in 1853. The Kolkata Suburban Railway has the largest network in the entire country.

Suburban trains that handle commuter traffic are all electric multiple units (EMUs). They usually have nine or twelve coaches; sometimes even fifteen to handle rush hour traffic. The suburban railways of Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai account for about 7.1% of the Indian Railway’s 20,819.3 million train kilometres, but contribute 53.2% of all railway passengers.

Rapid transit (Metro)

There are currently 11 operational metro systems in ten cities in India. As of November 2017, India has 425 kilometres (264 miles) of operational metro lines and 347 stations. A further 500+ km of lines are under construction. Metro rail lines in India are composed of mainly standard gauge.

Projects like the Kolkata Metro and Delhi Metro used broad gauge for their earliest lines but all new projects in India are on standard gauge as rolling stock imported is of standard gauge. The first rapid transit system in India is Kolkata Metro, which started operations in 1984. The Delhi Metro has the largest network in the entire country and the newest metro opened in Hyderabad Metro on 29 November 2017. Construction of metros in India is governed by the centrally enacted The Metro Railways (Construction of Works) Act, 1978 which defines itself as an act to provide for the construction of works relating to metro railways in the metropolitan cities and for matters connected therewith.


The Mumbai Monorail, which opened on February 2014 is the first operational monorail system used for rapid transit in independent India. Many other Indian cities have monorail projects, as a feeder system to the metro, in different phases of planning.

Light rail

Like monorail, light rail is also considered as a feeder system for the Metro systems. Two light rail projects have been proposed respectively in Delhi and Kolkata. There would be a total number of 68 stations of light rail in India.

Urbanizing the rail system

India’s urban rail network has grown significantly over the past decade, from 81 km in 2006 to about 375 km at present. The average daily ridership has increased from about 0.9 million passengers to 3.87 million. Delhi Metro’s annual ridership crossed the 1 billion passenger mark in 2016-17. Over 100 projects spanning 2,000 km have been planned at an investment of Rs. 6.4 trillion. However, this project pipeline faces risks related to financing, land acquisition, regulatory clearances and geological surprises.

To resolve some of these issues, in August 2017, the government approved the new Metro Rail Policy, 2017. This policy aims to facilitate innovative financing, revive private investment by making public-private partnerships (PPPs) mandatory, promote transit-oriented development and provision of last-mile connectivity, and improve project appraisal procedures. In another major initiative, in April 2017, the government introduced the norms to procure at least 75 per cent of rail cars and 25% of critical equipment locally under the Make in India initiative.

The government has also standardised norms for rolling stock and signalling equipment applicable to over 90% of the present imports. The move is expected to enable technology transfer, reduce costs, de-risk the industry from exchange rate fluctuations, drive the establishment of ancillary units along with manufacturing hubs, etc.

Cities across India are experimenting with state-of-the-art technologies to make urban rail systems more efficient, reliable and passenger-friendly given the rapidly increasing ridership. Indian metro systems are steadily moving from semi-automatic to unattended train operations/driverless train operations. Most of the upcoming systems have plans to deploy the highest grades of signalling such as communications-based train control (CBTC) systems. Several systems are also exploring the deployment of advanced fare payment systems such as open loop ticketing and bank cards. In addition, new concepts and technologies such as mobility-as-a-service (MaaS), the internet of trains, big data, predictive maintenance, and the use of renewable energy to power trains and stations are being introduced in the Indian urban rail space with the aim of transforming the sector.

Bright future ahead

Indian Railways aims to be the engine for India’s economic growth and development by being safe, financially viable, environment friendly and caring for its customers and employees. Cities across India are also experimenting with state-of the-art technologies to make urban rail systems more efficient, reliable and passenger-friendly given the rapidly increasing ridership. Most of the upcoming systems have plans to deploy the highest grades of signalling such as communications-based train control (CBTC) systems.

Several systems are also exploring the deployment of advanced fare payment systems such as open loop ticketing and bank cards. The government – central as well as state – continues to fund the majority of urban rail projects. Private sector participation in the sector, particularly in the metro rail segment, has so far been limited due to high construction costs, and long gestation and payback periods. Besides, land acquisition, securing of regulatory clearances, right of way, engineering issues, geotechnical challenges are some of the pressing concerns of the sector at present.

The vision and mission of Indian railways is to provide better infrastructure upgrades, passenger experience, preferred freight carrier, non-fare revenue enhancement, zero fatality, modernization by digitization and cutting edge technology, organizational culture, cost focus and sustainability for the smooth functioning of the system.

The GoI also plans to set up alternate sources of energy such as solar and wind energy powered trains; development of industrial units and generate electricity savings for the sustainable development of the organization. With these initiatives, the Indian railways aim to be a key driver in India’s growth and development.


Cochin Herald

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