By J P Rajkhowa
The Sentinel of 10th April 2015 carried a report on the much hyped and much sought-after Guwahati Metro Rail Project (Metro), for which, the concerned consultancy organization, RITES (Rail India Technical & Engineering Services) - a subsidiary of Indian Railways, submitted a Feasibility Report (FR) to GMDA, the desigted State Organization for implementing the Project. GMDA at its next meeting is likely to take a view on the FR for considering further initiatives on the subject. The City Metro would connect North Guwahati at Kuruwa with Guwahati at rengi by a six-lane bridge over the Brahmaputra to be constructed by the State PWD, of which two lanes are meant for the Metro. The first phase of the project would cost about Rs.14, 000 Crore against which the Assam Government has already made a total provision of Rs.18, 000 Crore.
As per an earlier media report, the Metro project- a component of Guwahati Rapid Mass Transport System (GRMTS), would extend up to Sopur in the East, Mirza on the West, North Guwahati / Baihata- chariali on the North and Meghalaya bordering areas parallel to the NH-37. The first phase of the project would hopefully be completed over a period of six years from the date of techno- economic sanction by the competent authority. Now the moot question that remains is whether the GMDA which is badly bogged down with too many unsolved problems of the Greater Guwahati area, including potable water supply to the remaining 70 per cent city residents, draige, annual flooding of the city, preservation and development of the water bodies including the Bharalu, Bahini, Basistha, Deepar / Sil sako / Bor –Sala / Saru- Sala etc. and its normal duties of preparing / filizing the City Master Plan, By- laws, building permission, development of parks & open breathing spaces etc. , should be entrusted with the responsibility of implementing the prestigious and high- cost Metro Project.
Planning, designing, net-working, funding and implementing a Metro Project for a flood-prone city like Guwahati, which is earthquake-prone, with too little open space for movement of surface trains and setting up of train stations, with huge infrastructure, is a highly complicated job requiring engineering / technical skills of the highest order, apart from past experience of effectively handling such challenges. Assam may draw from the experience of the Delhi Metro Rails Corporation (DMRC), which executed the country’s third urban MRTS-Metro Project for the tiol Capital Territory Region (NCTR) comprising Delhi, Gurgaon, Faridabad, Ghaziabad, Noida in record time, under the legendary Metro-man Sridharan, who headed the DMRC as its Chairman cum Maging Director. Delhi Metro is the world’s 13th largest Metro System in length (193 kms), serving 140 stations, of which 38 are underground, 5 at ground and rest elevated or aerial.
Currently, Delhi Metro network comprises six colour-coded lines, i.e., yellow, blue, red, orange, violet and green, almost like the London Underground, which has a black line too. All the stations are equipped with electrically run elevators, escalators / lifts, and stairways for walking up and down, also fitted with ‘tactile tiles to guide the visually impaired from station entrance to trains’. The Metro uses both broad gauge and standard gauge rolling stock. Delhi Metro carries about 2.5 million commuters every day, which is perhaps the largest in the world, equivalent to or more than the total population of more than half of the country. It runs 3000 trips daily between 05.30 to 0000 hrs. , with an interval of 3 to 4 minutes during peak period, with each train having 4 to 6 coaches, though on the Yellow line from HUDA city centre to Jahangirpuri and Blue line from Dwarka Sector 21 to NOIDA City Centre, Delhi Metro trains have eight coaches.
It is interesting to note that, the planning for RMTS started in 1984 when DDA and Urban Arts Commission came up with a proposal for developing a multi-modal transport system for the City. Then it took another 11 years, when on May 3, 1995 the Government of India and the Government of the NCT Delhi jointly set up DMRC, as a Company under the administrative control of the Ministry of Urban Development to implement the Project. Construction works were started in 1998 and the first sector on the Red line was opened to public in 2002, just after 4 years, followed by the Yellow line in 2004, Blue line in 2005, Green, Orange & Violet lines in 2010, and the Delhi Airport Metro Express in 2011. The recently opened Rapid Metro Rail Gurgaon, though linked to the Yellow line, is a separate system under a different owner / operator, but there is arrangement for allowing tickets from Delhi Metro and vice versa to use in its network.
It is known from the website of DMRC that, it introduced first the time in India, ticketing and passenger control through a completely Automatic Fare Collection System. The ticket which could be a card or a token is purchased from the Ticket counter, after which the passenger proceeds to one of several gates that separate the Paid Area from Unpaid Area. Here, the passenger will hold the ticket close to the machine to the right of the gate. If valid, the gates open automatically, and the passenger can pass to the Paid Area. If not valid, he will need to contact Customer Services Staff (CSS). For exit, the token is to be dropped to the machine, while for the card holder, the card is to be again held to / touch the assigned space of the machine, when the gate will open. If the machine does not accept the card for any reason, one has to contact the CSS. We had faced this problem at one station at the time of entry, when one card was not accepted by the machine, even after several attempts and then we had to approach a CSS counter, where the operator did some manipulation on his computer. After that, the same card was accepted by the machine and entry gate was opened to our relief.
We wanted to taste a travel by the Delhi Metro, just to have a feel of it, vis-a-vis the London Underground and the Paris Metro, which I and my wife Rita had used, during our past trips to London and Paris. We started from Noida City Centre Station at about 1310 hrs, on the Blue Line train and after a journey of about 25 minutes arrived at Rajiv Chowk Station (erstwhile famous Conught Place) about 1335 hrs, whereas by car, the same distance would have taken about one hour, during the same off peak hours. We purchased a One-Day Tourist Card costing Rs.150/- each, of which Rs. 50/- taken as security deposit was to be refunded on completion of the return journey. Almost every passenger could get a seat, and we could also get ours, out of seats reserved for old / disabled / senior citizens, as two young persons who were occupying two seats vacated those for us. After lunch at CP, we had availed a Yellow line train at about 1500 hrs with the hope of reaching up to the terminus at Sector 21, Gurgaon. This time only one of us could get a seat, as the coach was getting crowded and the reserved seats were not visible in the vicinity. However, one young man vacated a seat and both of us were comfortable, though getting a little worried, with increasing number of standing passengers.
After travelling up to I / Sarojini gar Station, we decided not to proceed further as peak hour- rush of commuters had almost started. So after getting down at the said Station, we boarded a return train along the Blue Line again, to Noida City Centre. The time was 1535 hours and the ‘peak hour’ rush had already started, with the result that, for some distance I had to keep standing, as no one came forward to spare a seat for a ‘senior citizen’. Nonetheless, it was an exciting experience to travel by Delhi Metro. We found the Stations and Platforms quite clean and tidy, thanks to the Swachh Bharat Abhijan of Prime Minister rendra Modi, much cleaner than the Paris Metro and on the same footing as London Underground. However, at some Stations, lifts were not found at easy reach of elderly and disabled and at Noida City Centre Station, even old / senior citizens are required to walk up for exiting along the Stairways, with much difficulty.
On the whole, travelling by Delhi Metro was a unique experience, with younger generation being more decent than in the past, as I could notice, though I came across one high-tech youth working on his laptop, ignoring me lest to spare his seat, though another simple youth gave up his seat for me, seen as a senior citizen. More lines are under construction as extension of all the coloured lines, in order to cover many uncovered suburban areas, which once completed would surely benefit the people of NCTD, besides reducing traffic jams in the City and enhancing the ‘green environment’. The trains ran very punctually and but for the hassle I encountered for getting refund of security deposit, when I was asked to go from one counter to another, causing harassment to a passenger, and earlier the refusal of several machines to accept one Tourist card for entry in to the Paid Area, there was no problem encountered. The PA system worked pretty well informing passengers on arrival of Stations, which sides the Gates would open, where to pick up a connecting train etc, but on the Yellow Line, it was ineffective, being iudible.
In order to implement the Guwahati Metro Project, it would be advisable to immediately create a separate, powerful, autonomous entity like the DMRC, a joint sector company with equal partnership with the Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India and place it in charge of an expert of the calibre of Sridharan, as its CEO and also induct other technical / fincial / Magement experts as Directors / Key executives on deputation / direct recruitment, as per need through a Search Committee. This would ensure effective designing, planning, engineering, networking, fincing, coorditing, monitoring and timely execution and commissioning of the Project.