The Mumbai Monorail, feeder system to the Mumbai metro, which has had a bumpy ride so far, has announced plans to get 10 new rakes and increase speed and capacity of the project, whose very existence has been questioned my many experts. But none of this is happening anytime soon. In fact, by the time the first rake arrives in January 2023 and the second in January 2024, there will be significant development or even completion ofseveral key infrastructure projects that are already under construction in Mumbai such as the trans-harbour link, the costal road, new metro lines among others.
The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) with a budget of Rs 590 crores has awarded the tender to Medha Servo Drives Pvt ltd., an entirely new company to build the new rakes after the previous provider has thrown up its hands. The criticism about the mono rail was that it was slow and wobbly, carried too few passengers and was a fire risk as was evident when a rake caught fire in November 2017. The new rakes to be built by Medha Servo aim to address a few of these issues.
MMRDA currently claims a ridership of 7,500 passengers per hour per direction and 1.5-2 lakh commuters per day on the 20kms long corridorbetween Sant Ghadge Maharaj Chowk to Chembur via Wadala.
The new trains, which are part of the “Make in India” program, are expected to be lighter, stronger and faster, allowing for a decrease in load on the guideway and the piers and increase in the passenger capacity from the present 560 passengers per train.
Since the rakes will be made in India, the maintenance cost is projected to be significantly lower leading to better life-cycle and maintainability. At the time of launch, the monorail was to run a train every 4-5 minutes, when in fact it has run a train every 18 minutes at the best of times and 30 minutes at worst with many complete closures in between.
MMRDA thinks the new rakes will allow it to run a train ever 5 minutes allowing for an increase in ridership and revenue. It is not clear if this would make monorail profitable.
Metropolitan Commissioner, Mr. SVR Srinivas said, “Monorail plays a significant role in terms of interconnectivity within the city. These new rakes will help solve traffic issues at major points in the routes. MMRDA has always been on the forefront in providing maximum facilities to the people of Mumbai. These new rakes of Monorail are another step taken towards achieving this.”
However, there are many questions which need to be answered such as what will happen to old rakes.
Senior transport activist and counsellor at Moneylife Foundation Ajit V Shenoy in a chat with Moneylife news said, “These new rakes will be coming in the next 2 years but by that time the present 6 rakes which are already 7 years old will have to be condemned. Spares parts will also be an issue as these are made by only one party and they are not making it for anyone else. So there is a scope for delay.”
He also points out that the rakes are yet to be designed; once they are designed, they will also have to go through prototype testing and clearance for commercial run by Commissioner of Railway Safety (CRS). “This makes me wonder if they will be able to deliver the products by start of January 2023 as promised”, says Mr Shenoy.
Mr Shenoy also says, “If these rakes are made only for Mumbai Monorail then the MMRDA will have to stock the quantity required for the next 10 years to ensure trouble free operations as it may not be possible for Medha Drives to manufacture and supply small quantities time and again, as per MMRDA’s needs. Only if Medha Drives continues to manufacture this design for other cities and for export for projects outside Mumbai Monorail will there be a guarantee of supply of spare products.”
The issue of rakes has been central to Monorail’s problems. The monorail which was supposed to bring in a ridership of 1.25 lakhs per day fell short by a huge margin and ended up with a ridership of just 15,000-20,000 per day. For a long time it operated a small and pointless stretch with the 8.8kms stretch between Wadala and Chembur with Sant Ghadge Maharaj Chowk being added later.
The original operating contractors comprising Larsen & Toubro and Scomi Engineering (LTSE) were sacked in December 2018, “for failure to perform and fulfil contractual obligations” and MMRDA took over operations of the entire corridor in March 2019. Given its past record, it remains to be seen if the grand new announcements are fulfilled, since they are two years into the future, when the daily commute for Mumbaikars would have changed again based on upcoming infrastructure.