A boom in the development of metro rail projects in India is not only helping to ease congested streets – but is also generating lucrative business opportunities as the country ploughs funds into bringing its deficient public transport system up to speed.
“Public transport in Indian cities has not been able to cope with rapidly increasing demand so far,” says Biswanath Bhattacharya, a partner at KPMG in India. “Metro systems are an option that can improve the quality of transportation infrastructure in Indian cities.”
There have been “rapid developments” in metro rail projects in India this year, he adds.
Amid accelerating urbanisation and growing concerns about pollution, there is a desperate need for mass urban transport solutions in India’s cities. Travelling across Mumbai during peak hours, for example, is a struggle for many because of heavy traffic jams. Between 2014 and 2050, there are expected to be an additional 404 million Indians in the country’s urban areas, as large numbers of the population move from rural areas to cities, according to the United Nations.
Narendra Modi, the country’s prime minister, has said the aim is to have metros in at least 50 cities across India eventually.
Such development, with each project costing tens of billions of rupees, is generating huge opportunities for foreign and Indian companies.
The first line of the metro in Chennai, in south India, opened less than five months ago. In the north, a metro in Jaipur also started operations in June. The long-awaited first phase of Mumbai’s metro launched to the public last year.
Last Monday, a new line for Bangalore’s metro was launched. Metros in Kochi in Kerala and in Hyderabad are expected to open next year. There are also metro systems planned for many other cities across the country, including Ahmedabad in the western state of Gujarat.
India had been lagging behind other countries in terms of metro development. The country’s first metro in Kolkata opened in 1984, the second was the Chennai MRTS, and the third one, in New Delhi, launched in 2002. India now has eight metro systems that are operational.
“Metro projects offer business opportunities related to construction, tunnelling, provision of rolling stock and other rail equipment as well as engineering, procurement and construction and in some cases public-private partnership contracts,” says Mr Bhattacharya.
“These developments have gained momentum due to key government initiatives like allowing 100 per cent investment in most segments of rail infrastructure including metro rail and the ‘Make in India’ initiative.”
Canada’s Bombardier, one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of planes and trains, has been heavily involved in Delhi’s metro, having already been awarded US$1.2 billion of contracts for vehicles and signalling for the network, according to the company. Expansion of the city’s metro is taking place. This year, Bombardier revealed that it had won a 15bn rupee (Dh832.4 million) contract to supply it with 162 more metro cars, which would bring its fleet of Bombardier vehicles to 776, making it one of the largest metro fleets in the world. It operates a railway vehicle manufacturing site and assembly facility at Savli in Gujarat, where these cars will be produced, with plans to start delivering them in the third quarter of next year. From this factory, Bombardier is also exporting to Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Australia.
France’s Alstom is another foreign company that has been capitalising on the expansion of metro rail projects in India. Last month, the transport firm announced that it had been awarded a contract worth more than €150m (Dh589.1m) by Lucknow Metro Rail Corporation to provide metro train sets and a signalling solution for the new metro network planned for Lucknow in the state of Uttar Pradesh, north India.
“Alstom will supply 20 Metropolis train sets, each composed of four metro cars,” it says. “Each car will be fitted with air conditioning and a passenger information system for a high level of passenger comfort. Alstom will also provide its communication-based train control solution, which controls the movement of the trains, enabling them to run at higher frequencies and speeds in total safety.”
The line, set to open to the public in 2017, is expected to carry about 430,000 passengers a day in its first year, rising to more than 1 million by 2030, it adds.
“The metro cars will be produced in Alstom’s Sri City train manufacturing facility in India,” Alstom says. “The signalling system will be jointly supplied by Alstom’s sites in Bangalore, India and Saint-Ouen, France. Alstom has strong presence in India, where the company has been awarded important metro projects for cities including Chennai, Delhi and Kochi.”
ABB, meanwhile, a Swiss power and automation technologies firm, has provided products and systems for metro networks in Delhi, Jaipur, Bangalore, Mumbai and Kolkata. With rapid urbanisation taking place in the country, Bazmi Husain, the managing director of ABB in India, says that there is an enormous amount of work the firm can do in the country.
Thales, the French aerospace, defence, and transport multinational is finding that it can play a “pivotal role” in the development of the country’s metro systems, says Antoine Caput, the vice president and country director for Thales in India. It is involved in ticketing systems for the New Delhi and Gurgaon metro rails, as well as a communication and supervision system for the metros in New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Jaipur, and will provide signalling and communications systems for Hyderabad’s upcoming metro.
Puneet Srivastava, the vice president of transport engineering at Cyient, an Indian engineering and networks firm, says his company is involved in metro projects in India both indirectly through global rail firms and, in some cases, doing work directly for the metros.
“We have been involved in concept design, detail design, interface design, testing, warranty support and training in Indian metros,” he says. “We are executing work primarily in rolling stock and signalling areas, but are also into software development and testing.”
The biggest challenge faced by metro projects in India is funding, among other challenges, he says.
“Currently, most of the projects are funded by Japanese banks, with limited local support,” Mr Srivastava says.
“The next biggest problem is land acquisition. Since most of the metros pass through congested areas, acquiring land for construction is a huge challenge.
“The third biggest challenge is that of [human] resources. Since the metro work in India has started primarily in the last decade, it is difficult to find good resources who have the requisite experience to plan and execute the work,” Mr Srivastava says.
PRK Murthy, the chief of the transport and communications division at the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority, says metro systems are vital to the economic progress of Mumbai and other major cities in India.
“Transport leads to development, so we have to look at economic development and sustainability in the long run.
“We can’t depend on private vehicles. The metro is the solution in the long term for many of the cities in India,” says Mr Murthy.
He says the “demands will be very huge” for construction as India’s network of metros expands and points out that, while there are also significant opportunities for Indian companies, some of them simply do not have the know-how to execute elements of the projects. He adds that there is a lot of scope for Indian firms to tie up with foreign companies in joint ventures.
“They need to have some latest technology transfers and there are always opportunities to improve the quality and the safety of the Indian transport system,”,” Mr Murthy says.
As the Mumbai project moves ahead, following challenges including local opposition because of the project impacting green spaces and residential areas, he says that “mostly the Chinese companies have come forward”.