The country’s first monorail planned in Mumbai will have four cars instead of eight. An expert believes that the term ‘monorail’ is actually a misnomer.
“(The) monorail is a misnomer. It actually runs on rubber tyres. The loading density is no better than a bus. Only steel wheels on steel rails can optimally carry (more) load,” said Rajaram Bojji, former managing director, Konkan Railway.
The number of cars for phase I of the monorail on the 20-km route from Jacob Circle to Chembur via Wadala has been reduced to four from the earlier eight. Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) engineers have been quoted by newspapers saying that sharp turns on the route were responsible for the reduction of the number of cars to four. MMRDA’s official stand is that the present capacity (number of cars) of the monorail is based on the estimated number of commuters and their needs.
Reduction in the number of cars also means that the monorail would be carrying fewer passengers. This in turn will not help to ease the traffic woes for commuters who are expecting relief from their daily commuting problems. With the reduction of cars, per passenger fare would also go up, thus making the monorail a white elephant.
Mr Bojji, who invented the Skybus in 2001, said, “(The) monorail was never meant to be a mass transit system. It is technically a mistake to have cleared the project. The maintenance intensity and costs are high and you will realise soon what others did a long time back. It (the monorail) is good for exhibition grounds, airport areas, and short-distance transits for limited throughputs.”
Ergo, the monorail in Mumbai may just become another tourist attraction, but would not help ease the commuting and traffic problems of the city.
“Mumbai can be provided with safer, rail-based fast mass transit for 60 lakh passengers, who commute every day, at less than Re1 per km in air-conditioned comfort, without any viability gap funding from the government, at a cost of Rs6,000 crore. But the government is planning to spend Rs20,000 crore to achieve much less and (is) endangering road safety too,” added Mr Bojji.
“The Skybus can deliver the same throughputs as the regular heavy metro rail, because it is designed to match the rate of commuter arrival with despatch of Skybus units,” explained Mr Bojji.
This in turn could have helped increase passenger load in comparison to the monorail. Skybus can handle 20,000 to 80,000 passengers per hour per direction (PHPD). On the other hand, monorail with four cars has a capacity of 8,000 to 12,000 PHPD, as per the MMRDA website.
According to Mr Bojji, Skybus is also cost-effective compared to the monorail. The Mumbai monorail is being developed at a cost of Rs2,460 crore for a 19.5-km stretch, which translates to more than Rs100 crore per km. In comparison, the test track for the Skybus at Goa—along with rolling-stock units, two traverses and a station—was constructed at an average cost of less than Rs36 crore per km within 6 months.
“The cost/benefit analysis for monorail is the worst and it is amazing that someone made this choice. For a cost close to that of the monorail, one can have the Skybus to deliver heavy throughputs like metro rail. The Skybus is also four times more profitable than monorail,” added Mr Bojji.
A Skybus metro for a city like Mumbai would have also helped address problems like space availability. There are a number of skywalks proposed and developed at various parts across the city to ease pedestrian traffic. The Skybus could have helped address this problem with less capital cost and minimal land procurement issues.
“With a service on a per minute basis and point-to-point connectivity along the road with the Skybus, there would have been no incentive to take the skywalk and thus there would have been no requirement for the same. The 11-metre pathway or ‘skytop’ could have been utilised for shopping or as a disaster management zone. The ‘skytop’ also provides a parallel pathway on top without interfering with traffic,” explained Mr Bojji. The ‘skytop’ is the open space available above the tracks developed for the Skybus.
The Indian government chose to develop the metro rail and monorail in the country based on foreign models. However, it has constantly shied away from Indian patented models like the Skybus. The Skybus could have proved to be a cheaper and more efficient transport system for a city like Mumbai.
In addition, the Skybus could have proved safer in comparison to the monorail and the metro rail. “Skybus is a specifically designed and customised railway and uses the same heavy metro rail modules which are configured to make it derailment-free and take sharper turns to follow roads. With its advanced technologies, it enhances safety not only for Skybus passengers, but also for the road users below. Both conventional metro and monorail lack these advanced features,” Mr Bojji explained. In August 2009, a Delhi metro train derailed near the Dwarka station.
In 2001, the then president of India, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam and his team examined the Skybus concept, upheld and recommended the same to the government. The safety case visualisation as required by Dr Kalam was also completed by Dr Anil Kakodkar, Dr P Ramarao and a working commissioner of railway safety—all of whom declared that safety-wise, the Skybus was better than the railway.
Despite all these tests and recommendations, the authorities have decided to opt for the monorail system, and have completely sidelined the indigenous Skybus. The government itself holds the patent for the Skybus.
“When engineers join a gang to bleed the country, (facilities like) the Delhi Metro are the result. (It is) over-priced and under-performing, (and a) financially bleeding white elephant,” concluded Mr Bojji.