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Public transport for Indian urban agglomerations: A case for central role for surface rail

Manchala, Ravibabu and Vagvala, Phani Sree (2012): Public transport for Indian urban agglomerations: A case for central role for surface rail.

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Objective Emerging economies like India are investing heavily in rapid development of urban transport infrastructure for public transport. Though the initial efforts started with three modes - metro rail, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and surface rail; currently investments are being made mainly in metro rail and BRT. In spite of lack of patronage, surface rail, which helped develop many cities in India, is playing a prominent role in movement of urban commuters. The objective of research is to assess the viability of surface rail for movement of urban commuters in comparison to metro rail and BRT. To achieve this objective research questions asked were: • How do cost, capacity and cost per unit capacity compare between metro rail, surface rail and BRT systems? • What is the current urban form of Indian cities and policy framework to accommodate future urbanisation? • What does this imply for planning of public transport? • Can the surface rail serve the city core in addition to serving the peripheral areas? If so, what should be the planning strategies for the surface rail systems? • What are the implications for public transport in India and can the BRT, metro rail and surface rail be symbiotically combined to generate a more purposeful and distinct public transport for Indian UAs? If so, what are the investment implications? • If the answer to the above is affirmative, what policy measures are required to integrate surface rail into transit systems of Indian UAs?

Methodology The methodology adapted was : • Comparative assessment of cost, capacity and cost per unit capacity for the three modes which established that cost per unit capacity for surface rail is one twentieth of metro and one fourth of BRT • Review of urbanisation trends and policies • Finally, review of rail network in the 50 urban agglomerations (UAs) with population more than million to see the extent of rail network serving them and whether it can serve the core city.

Results The results indicate that during the 12th plan 747 kilometres (kms) of metro rail and 989 kms of regional rail systems are being developed to serve 10 large UAs. As against this, by reallocation of the resources a more elaborate urban rail network of 6628 kms can be upgraded and 3000 kms of new system can be added in all the 49 UAs. Another major finding is the hidden benefits given to metro rail compared to surface rail systems.

Implications for Policy Immediate policy implication is to undertake surface rail development on priority before metro rail development is taken up. Policy implication would be to set up an institutional mechanism for fast development of surface rail. This would be possible if apex policy making bodies of Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) for urban transport, Ministry of Railways (MoR) for surface rail and the Planning Commissions jointly review and formulate guidelines for surface rail and metro rail projects. This would facilitate concerted action for development of surface rail at all levels.

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