Delhi's transit to RRTS in a slow lane despite Centre's nod for the project

Nearly a year after receiving the Centre's nod for executing a regional rapid transit system (RRTS), the National Capital Region Transport Corporation (NCRTC) has not been able to make much progress on the ambitious project to link Delhi with adjoining cities in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. The corporation is yet to complete the consultation process with the state governments for land acquisition, to not just widen existing roads but also build depots and undertake utility shifting work. 

Designed on the lines of systems in London, Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong, the first leg -- Delhi-Ghaziabad-Meerut – of the project would come up at an estimated cost of Rs 316.32 billion. There are three corridors being planned with an expected ridership of 1.14 million for the Meerut segment, 1.51 million for Delhi-Gurugram-Rewari-Alwar and 983,000 for Delhi-Sonipat-Panipat. 

This system is the first of its kind in the country. Only the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP) III segments worth Rs 100 billion comes close to it. The project, being jointly financed by the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the World Bank in a 40:60 ratio, is aimed to expand the suburban rail network across the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR). It is, however, an expansion project of the existing network, while RRTS is a greenfield project with rolling stock and other infrastructure being on par with global systems.

However, according to some experts, land acquisition for the three corridors, that span across the states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, in the greater NCR, is being done at a snail's pace. The land is a state subject and, therefore, requires the respective state government’s approval before the acquisition. Sharma denied land acquisition was an issue in the first corridor linking Meerut.

In July 2013, the Union Cabinet approved constitution of NCRTC under the Companies Act, 1956 for designing, developing, implementing, financing, operating and maintaining Regional Rapid Transit system (RRTS) in NCR to provide comfortable and fast transit to NCR towns and meet the high growth in transport demand.

NCRTC, a joint venture of the central government and state governments of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi, was envisaged to undertake design construction, operation and maintenance of the RRTS project on the lines of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC).

"These kinds of suburban train networks are required as they ease the pressure on big cities while also creating economic activity. The challenge is to keep the regional rapid transit service financially viable for both the commuter and the operator," Vishwas Udgirkar, partner, Deloitte India said. Commuters weigh the fares against those of competing for travel options, like road transport and Indian Railway run trains, so a balance between a viable return to operators and affordability becomes important.

"The Delhi-Ghaziabad-Meerut corridor will be the first corridor to be implemented for which pre-construction activities including geotechnical investigations, detailed design, utility shifting planning and traffic diversion planning are in progress," Sharma said. 

The average speed of the Delhi-Meerut train is likely to be 100 kilometres per hour, serving traffic nodes every 5-10 minutes. According to a study by the NCRTC, the travel time from Delhi to Ghaziabad would be drastically reduced once the suburban rail network is up and ready. For instance, the travel time from Ghaziabad to Delhi Airport by road is 180 minutes, while by rapid transit system it would be substantially down to 45 minutes.

Experts feel the proposed rail network is the best way to serve the ever-increasing population of Delhi and NCR, besides tackling the problem of city pollution. By de-congesting the arterial roads in Delhi, the network is expected to significantly bring down air pollution.

The rapid transit system also means a jump in the share of public transport in the national capital, an area where the city continues to struggle till date. Presently, cars contribute 36% of the total public transport in Delhi and NCR, followed by rail (32%), two-wheelers (27%) and buses (5%).

This is expected to change with the commencement of the rapid transit system, which will constitute 46% of the public transport, followed by cars (22%), two-wheelers (9%) and buses (2%), the NCRTC study said.

Joint teams of NCRTC and DMRC are working together for integration of the two transport systems, which are expected to complement each other for efficient public transportation while reducing traffic congestion and pollution in Delhi and NCR.