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Maha Metro: Remaking Indian Public Transport

SKOCH team visited the project to experience it first-hand. A report from the field.

Keeping citizen at the core, at each step, Maharashtra Metro Rail Corporation Limited or Maha Metro has been taking periodic feedback from the citizen bodies and potential users. The purpose is to not only to sensitise the citizens but also to understand their concerns and add to their comfort addressing safety and wage related issues. Need for a feeder service for last mile connectivity, a concessional pass for students and exclusive trains for women in peak hours or reserved sections for women on all trains have been some of the concerns. The SKOCH team interacted with various stakeholders to find out their reactions to the new project. Amey Tawde is a rickshaw puller who was initially concerned about losing his wages. He said, my fears were unfounded as ever since the line has opened up, I am getting large number of passengers. Krishna Apte is a college goer who has been using metro from the day it was inaugurated. She says, it is a novel experience, I can time my arrival at destination and it is completely safe. Aditi Damle works in a private firm and keeps flexible working hours. “Using metro on days when returning late makes me feel safe. I always call my husband, who picks me up from the station. I am sure, once the feeder service starts, he will not have to come to the station,” said Aditi.

Jointly owned by the Government of India and the Government of Maharashtra, Maha Metro, is redefining the public transport ecosystem in the state and by extension, the country. From its one-of-a-kind stations and ambitious expansion plans to its green initiatives and citizen engagement efforts, Maha Metro is an example of the good that is achieved when infrastructural development projects are properly integrated citizen needs in mind.

As of 30 September 2021, 96.75% of the Nagpur Metro project has been completed, with train services operational for 26.6km. The project began in June 2015 and is expected to be finished by the end of December 2021. Similarly, the Pune Metro project was launched in 2017 and 63% of the work has been completed, and the project is expected to wrap up by December 2022. Despite the severity of the challenges faced by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government of India and the Government of Maharashtra have worked tirelessly to ensure that the project stays on track and the citizens can benefit from the progress.

The defining feature of the Maha Metro project is in its management. A one-of-a-kind Digital Project Management Platform was developed using 5-Dimensional Building Information Modeling (5D-BIM) integrated with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). The 6D-BIM management method, as it is now referred to, has come to bridge the quality and efficiency gaps observed between older Indian infrastructural projects and their seemingly-better counterparts in foreign nations. Maha Metro capitalises on the national IT potential of India. The custom-made platform transforms the previously-piecemeal Indian approach to large-scale infrastructural projects; leading global technologies like the Bentley systems, Oracle and SAP have been used to develop an integrated project management approach. Another example of insightful project management is the emphasis on non-fare revenue: the project targets 60% via advertising, project management consultancy fees, station naming rights, transit-oriented development, value capture financing, etc.

Brijesh Dixit, MD, Maharashtra Metro Rail Corporation Ltd

“One of the distinguishing features of Nagpur Metro is the focus on non-fare box revenue which is targeted at 60-70%. Most of the stations are developed keeping this in mind. We are also looking at a common mobility card to add to the ease of passenger comfort and convenience,” said Brijesh Dixit, MD, Maha Metro.

Maha Metro Prioritises Environmentally Responsible Development 

Sustainability is the buzzword of this age. Industries across the world are zeroing in on greener, more ecologically-responsible and long-term sustainable methods of working. The Nagpur Metro Rail Project incorporated solar energy from the very beginning to cover 65% of the project energy requirements under the RESCO Model. The use of solar energy saves Maha Metro around Rs. 20 crores annually. All the stations have been outfitted with rooftop solar panels and these are being used for operating the trains, lighting stations and setting up Electric Vehicle (EV) charging facilities. The latter has been installed at 10 stations, with plans for more, to ensure ‘Green last mile connectivity’.

In keeping with the spirit of sustainability, the project undertakes 100% water recycling and 100% rainwater harvesting. An MoU with DRDO has been used to install an Anaerobic Biodigester for 100% waste water management to ensure there is zero discharge to the sewage system.

“One cannot deny that largescale infrastructural development projects have a significant ecological footprint. The impact on the planet is perhaps one of the heavier costs of development. And yet, this is where Maha Metro is once again pioneering a better, more responsible way of getting the job done: The Little Wood urban forest has been developed,” added Dixit. For Nagpur Metro, it was estimated that 1,150 trees would have to be cut for the project; in order to offset this, 38 trees were saved by transplantation and 14,500 trees have been planted. The Little Wood forest includes native tree species and medicinal plants, is home to numerous small animals and birds, and will absorb 207 tons of CO2 per year. In the case of Pune Metro, Root Ball methodology was used to 565 of 685 trees marked for cutting. The Kothrud Kachra dumping site with 3,80,000 cubic meters of garbage and legacy waste is being transformed by Maha Metro into a depot.

Citizen Friendly Project Planning

But what truly sets the Maha Metro project apart from other infrastructural development/ transport projects is how it is changing citizen lives in so many ways. Managing Director Dixit shares that it is the first project in India wherein multiple utilities are operating on the same path, sharing right of way. It is a 3 and 4 layered 9km-long transport system along the metro corridor. This strategic development plan makes better use of space in the urban setting, significantly reducing urban clutter and improving the aesthetic value of the cityscape. It is also more time and cost-effective, saving 15-20% in costs.

The introduction of Open Loop Chip-based Contactless Smart Cards is another salient feature. One card is all that is needed to be able to access multiple mobility platforms, including buses, feeder services, metro, parking, taxis and even retail outlets in the city. The concept of ‘common mobility’ is no longer a distant dream, but a tangible reality in Maharashtra. The authorities have signed MoUs with 15 operators to supply public bicycles, e-Bicycles, e-Rickshaws and e-Scooters for multimodal integration so that true last mile connectivity can be accomplished.

Unique Station Designs

The Mandai and Budhwarpeth Metro Stations have been built using the New Austrian Tunnelling Method (NATM). This technology has allowed proper construction despite space constrictions and has prevented the need to resettle and rehabilitate 200 people in the area.

The Airport Station in Nagpur builds on the orange colour scheme used in the state, while the New Airport Station is inspired by Indo-Saracenic architecture. The Khapri Station draws inspiration from Indo-Victorian architecture and the Sitabuldi Interchange Station boasts a modern design created by French architects.

Keeping in mind the emotional impact of large city structures on viewers, efforts for median beautification and pier decoration have also been undertaken. The pier artwork at Chhatrapati Square and Subhash Nagar station is changing the common mindset about concrete structures detracting from the urban aesthetic. Building on this approach, Maha Metro has installed a replica of Mahatma Gandhi at the Airport Metro Station and created multiple elements dedicated to Maharani Laxmi Bai at the Jhansi Rani Square Station. These artistic elements not only beautify the surroundings but also connect commuters with the rich cultural heritage and history of the country.

The Sant Tukaram Station, named after the Bhakti-period Maharashtra saint, has been built using an organic and Varkari theme. The mural depicts the devotees’ traditions and pays homage to an age-old spiritual tradition in the state.

Looking to The Future with Metro Neo

Maha Metro has submitted a DPR for Metro Neo to the Union Cabinet. The proposal envisages a unique transport system to be implemented in Nasik and at par with global best standards. The proposed system will be an articulated/ bi-articulated trolley bus system with overhead electric traction. The proposal allows room for upgradation to a Light Metro system with incremental investment, dependent on future needs. It will be the first-ever Rubber-Tyred Mass Rapid Transportation System in India. The system will be cost, space and energy-efficient, promising low noise pollution and environmentally-responsible features. The system is designed to be fast, reliable, affordable and seamless, negotiating city routes safely while offering best-in-class features and services to commuters. The potential of the Metro Neo project is such that Maha Metro is using the concept to fulfill a request by the Kakatiya Urban Development Authority (KUDA) of Telangana to develop a DPR for the Warangal Metro. Using Metro Neo technology developed by it, Maha Metro has made execution of Warangal Metro project possible. In this process it has saved about Rs 2,000 crore of KUDA. The length of Warangal Metro Neo is 15 km and will be built at a cost of about Rs 1,000 crore. The cost per km of this project is Rs 60 crore against Rs 180 crore per km of traditional heavy metros. It has been designed on the lines of Nasik Metro.

Metro Neo by Maha Metro

Maha Metro got the project because of excellent work done by it in Nagpur and Pune Metros. It has also been asked by City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO) to complete the Navi Mumbai Metro. Maha Metro is now executing projects inside as well as outside Maharashtra.

The public transport culture of a state is a strong indicator of overall development. M Ramachandran, Distinguished Fellow, SKOCH Development Foundation, Former Secretary, Urban, Government of India and Chairman, National Urban Transport Awards Committee commented as to how Maha Metro is a sign of new beginnings. He appreciates the multimodal nature of Maha Metro, specifically the decision to install EV charging stations. EVs are poised to become mainstream transport in the future and the state has, in fact, recently announced a new EV policy. Time will tell how integration will shape up. Building on the points about the integration of new technologies, the future of Metro Neo and the multimodal system, Ramachandran asked about how exactly the metro system impacts commuters’ lives and what the overall benefits of such a system will be in the long run and whether a multidimensional full-capacity running network will be sufficient in terms of operational sustainability.

Praveen Kumar Srivastava, Industry Business Architect, Industries & Customer Advisory, SAP India, said that the project management is extremely critical for a metro project and is important to develop an asset management strategy. He added that data management is an integral component of the same; vast amounts of data are being generated and the organisation must formulate a strategy for how this data is to be used for optimum asset utilisation. Another important point is that of information exchange with the OEMs. Multimodal connectivity typically involves multiple vendors and stakeholders so information exchange and revenue sharing and the role of software in managing these tasks must be explored further. The use of technology is the defining feature of the Maha Metro project.  Srivastava explains, GIS integration is already being used for managing land parcels, documentation and keeping data intact. Technology can also play an important role for mapping real estate assets to better target non-fare revenue.