Metros, Cosmos, and Everything in Between

Unlocking Urban Mobility: The Power of Standardization in Mass Transit

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This verse (यथा पिंडे तथा ब्रह्माण्डे) from ancient Vedic texts roughly translates to “As is the individual, so is the universe.” It means that the microcosm reflects the macrocosm and the laws that govern one level of existence also apply to other levels. 

Visualising the above philosophy under the lens of science, we can well emphasise on the fact that – Just as the harmony and balance in the universe are maintained by following specific principles, the quality and consistency of products are ensured through standardisation.

This timeless wisdom finds relevance even in the realm of Mass Rapid Transit Systems (MRTS), where standardisation plays a pivotal role in ensuring efficient, safe, and sustainable transportation. As cities worldwide embrace the need for faster, reliable, and eco-friendly transit options, adhering to standardised practices becomes the key to unlocking the full potential of MRTS networks.

Too Jargonish? 

Let’s cut down on English a bit to simplify our discussion. Let’s go back in time as much we can. The first passenger train in India ran from Bori-Bander to Thane way back in 1853. It was hauled by three steam locomotives, the “Sahib, Sindh and Sultan.” That movement was a pathbreaking moment and a landmark achievement for a country which was stereotyped with elephants, snakes, and bullock carts for few preceding centuries. 

The Indian railways network has expanded leaps and bounds with great speed since then. Today, Indian Railways is the fourth largest railway network in the world and is the largest railway network in Asia. Indian Railways has an extensive route length, connecting numerous towns, cities, and remote areas. It operates under different divisions and zones, each responsible for a specific geographical region. The network provides both passenger and freight services, making it an integral part of the country’s economic and social fabric. 

Even a peek into the vastness of Indian railways is enough to get overwhelmed. It is incredibly diverse in terms of the types of trains it operates, the regions it covers, and the services it provides. Most of its diversity stems out of the country’s diverse geography, culture, and historical development. There is no denial to the fact that this diversity provides much-needed flexibility to our system for adapting to local preferences and conditions. But this diversity also has bred Non-Standardisation in Indian Railways. Diverse gauges, Varied train-types, Different Coach Designs, Isolated Zonal Practices, Diverse Ticketing Systems, locally implemented solutions, Varied infrastructural amenities, etc. The list can go on.

Yes, it does reflect the country’s diversity and local needs. But at the same time, operational efficiency, maintenance, and passenger experience often get affected due to the non-standardised nature of the Indian Railways network. While this characteristic has certain advantages in terms of flexibility and cultural relevance, it also poses evident challenges in terms of safety and modernisation

Now, changing the entire framework of Indian Railways and moving towards Standardization will need a juggernaut-level effort at the very least. Yes, things like ‘Setting up of Maintenance standards for various assets on Zonal Railways’, and ‘Development of standards for quality control’ are being initiated at the central level. Kudos to that. But we all can very well agree with hands-on heart that diversity in Railways is at its soul, and making 180-degree shifts will not only be challenging to implement but also will not help the cause. 

Wait, isn’t the Metros Still Very Youthful?

Yes indeed. And that brings us to the current timeline. Indian MRTS network is maybe the perfect landscape of sowing the standardised practices and reaping the fruits out of it. We are neither too young to make rookie mistakes, nor too old to be bogged down due to our own inertia. With almost 25 Years of rich experience (hopefully), we indeed are smart and flexible enough to make swift, subtle, and required changes at policy level, execution level, and operation level. At this stage of our learning curve, with Metro services operating in 18 cities of India and several others in pipe-lines; the experience can be leveraged to attain economies of scale.

Just as the various celestial bodies in the universe are interconnected by gravitational forces, standardisation will create seamless connectivity within MRTS networks. Standardised track gauges, Signaling systems, and operational protocols will facilitate the integration of different transit lines and modes, allowing commuters to effortlessly traverse the urban landscape. 

When MRTS systems operate on a unified platform, passengers experience smoother transfers, reduced waiting times, and enhanced overall commuting experiences. And that precisely is the vision of any urban transporter across the world. 

But What Gains Does it Bring to The Table?

  • Operation: Adherence to standardised safety measures ensures that MRTS networks operate with maximum reliability. From standardised construction materials to safety protocols, standardised practices minimise risks, mitigate accidents, and instill confidence in both operators and passengers. Moreover, standardised maintenance procedures always lead to improved system longevity, reducing downtimes and costly repairs.
  • Design: Standardised MRTS components and technologies drive operational efficiency and cost-effectiveness. When cities adopt standardised rolling stock, energy-efficient technologies, and ticketing systems, economies of scale come into play, reducing procurement costs, and promoting sustainability. Additionally, standardisation facilitates knowledge-sharing and best practices, allowing SPVs to learn from one another’s successes and challenges.

Planning: The universe is ever-evolving, and so are the demands of urban mobility. Standardisation in MRTS systems acts as a foundation for innovation and future-proofing. By setting uniform benchmarks, standardisation encourages researchers, engineers, and urban planners to think beyond the status quo and explore groundbreaking solutions. This approach enables the seamless integration of new technologies and adaptation to changing urban landscapes, preparing MRTS networks for the challenges of tomorrow.

Let’s Talk Technical a Bit

As cities grapple with the challenges of rapid urbanisation and increasing vehicular traffic, standardised MRTS networks emerge as a beacon of hope for eco-friendly and sustainable urban mobility. Talking specifically on technical aspects for any Metro Network, the undermentioned systems appear to be front runners in terms of Standardising possibility:

  • Axle load of Rolling Stock, the car length and width, and the Standard gauge of tracks. Top of the rail height of trains. 
  • Train performance parameters viz. acceleration and deacceleration rates vis-à-vis train’s passenger loading and corresponding speeds.
  • Train’s jerk rate, its max. operating speed and design speed. 
  • Tunnel Diameter, Schedule of Dimensions. Uniform fastening systems

Just as the balance of ecosystems sustains life in the universe, standardised MRTS systems contribute to sustainable urban living. Adding to the obvious benefits of standardisation, it will also help promoting energy-efficient technologies, optimising ridership, and reducing emissions. The standardised mass transit systems help mitigate environmental impacts and combat climate change in a true sense. 

Okay! Driving Home the Point

In the tapestry of the universe, the principle of “Yatha Pinde Tatha Brahmande” serves as a reminder of the interconnectedness of all things. In the context of Mass Rapid Transit Systems, standardisation embodies this cosmic harmony by connecting cities, enhancing safety, optimising efficiency, fostering innovation, and promoting sustainability.

As urban centres embrace the vision of smarter, greener, and more interconnected transportation, standardised MRTS networks stand as a testament to human ingenuity and our ability to align with the grand design of the cosmos. By embracing standardisation, cities can usher in a new era of seamless, safe, and sustainable urban mobility, benefiting both current and future generations.

Afterall, given a choice, who would like to reinvent the same wheel time and again. Isn’t it?

By Mr. Raghav Bharadwaj

Manager (Technical & Quality – Rolling Stock) at Delhi Metro Rail Corporation

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