Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members


As per India’s Metrorail roadmap, around 900 km is under construction and another 1,000 km is proposed. With around 3,000 km in operation, it is important to maintain a balance between affordability, sustainability, and profitability.  

During his speech at the UNCCC (COP26) Glasgow in 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said “Clean public transport is a top priority for our Govt.  The number of cities with metro rail increased to 18 from 5 in the last 5 years.  The aim is to increase it to 25 cities by 2025,” emphasizing on the need to accelerate the implementation of metro rail across country’s urban areas for encouraging the adoption of the eco-friendly and sustainable and faster mode of public transport for shorter distances.

Today, Metro Rail has been extensively accepted as an alternative to mass transport in urban India because of its huge population, heightened vehicular traffic, and increasing pollution. With the pace with which Indian cities are getting populous, Mass Rapid Transit Systems (MRTS) are the need of the hour.

Metro rail has seen considerable growth in India in recent years, and the rate of growth is going to become twice or thrice in the coming years.

At the 7th Economic Times Infra Focus Summit and Awards 2022, during the panel discussion on “Metro Rail: A Billion Dollar Opportunity!” Naresh T Raisinghani, CEO and Executive Director, BMGI India opened the discussion by deliberating on the effectiveness of the metro as a mode of public transport. At present, around 2000 metro trains are in operation worldwide, and India ranks 5th globally in terms of km covered.

Sharing his thoughts on the importance of the metro train and why it co-exist with road transportation Dr Brijesh Dixit, Managing Director of Maharashtra Metro Rail Corporation Limited (Maha Metro), a 50:50 Joint Venture company of the Government of India & Government of Maharashtra headquartered in Nagpur, India stated “Today, the metro, as well as road transportation, must co-exist as they complement each other. Metro reflects as a means of mass transit. Around 2000 passengers can travel together. Within the city, a large no. of people can travel short distances in a shorter time frame and with great comfort. So, these are a few key attributes of the metro: reliability, safety, convenience, comfort, and eco-friendly.”

As far as roads are concerned, a few of the above-mentioned attributes might not be applicable, but still, both have their importance and requirement for traveling. So, they both co-exist.

K V B Reddy, Managing Director & Chief Executive Officer of L&T Metro Rail (Hyderabad) Limited cited “I believe that both modes of transportation must co-exist. A person cannot travel by metro alone, there is a need to take the road from home to the metro station and from the metro station to the place of work. So, the metro is an ideal option for a shorter distance of up to 30 kms. “

Fundamentally, the A, B, and C-class cities are quite congested in terms of transportation. The metro has transformed the way people travel in these cities. They offer reliable and affordable journeys. It has also led to an increase in social activities in the transportation system. It is an important development from the infrastructure point of view, he added.

Nalin Gupta, Managing Director, J Kumar Infraprojects Ltd said “Considering urban cities, where there is a great number of line constraints, a limitation of space exists in terms of road transport. So, the metro is the system through which we can cater to the rapidly snowballing traffic demand as well as the migrating population to these urban cities. It offers a solution to take care of mass transportation and growing traffic management demands.”

Indian metro systems: One-of-its-kind globally

As per the country metro roadmap, around 900 kms is under construction and another 1000 kms is proposed. With 3000 kms in operation, India would be 2nd largest network globally only after China.

Speaking about the standard of technology innovation that the metro rails boast of which are of global standards in terms of safety and reliability, Dr Brijesh Dixit mentioned “I would say we are leading. We are looking at world-class and state-of-the-art metros. In terms of specification, technology, and performance, our metros are truly at-par with our global counterparts.”

We should look forward to setting up futuristic infrastructure and we are already on our way to achieving the same. There is no doubt about us doing our best.

K V B Reddy citedIn terms of technology, we are deploying the latest and most advanced ones available globally. We are ahead of our global counterparts with some indigenization. All our metros are equipped with Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC) technology that the world is using too.”

With Make-In-India, we are manufacturing coaches at the domestic level and cutting down on our imports substantially. We are also exporting them to other countries, around 1000 coaches have been imported to date, he added as he stressed the importance of strengthening the domestic manufacturing value chain.

Nalin Gupta saidLooking at the technology used in our metro, be it elevated or underground, we are using world-class types of machinery available globally. For example, tunnel boarding machines for underground metro construction are being used with the latest technology. We are not lacking anywhere.”

The govt. has taken initiatives for the safety of the passengers with the implementation of sensor-based safety screening technology to avert falling incidents between the platforms and the train.

Generating revenues aimed at breakeven with MRTS

Metro Railway as a part of Indian Railways, has played a pivotal role in increasing its non-fare revenue by adopting various innovative steps which are in general dependent on passenger earnings. Given the infrastructure investment required for setting up Metro rail projects and keeping them up and running, it is important to maintain a balance between staying affordable while also being profitable.

Dr Brijesh Dixit, MD explainsIt is more difficult to operate a metro rather than implement it. It’s a global phenomenon. People have found ways like going for non-fare box revenue (NFBR). The best example of NFBR is Hong Kong which makes up 42 percent of the revenue. We at Maha Metro have set a target of 50 percent revenue both in Nagpur and Pune. There is a need and we must create revenue streams that are from NFBR sources.”

For the first time and one-of-its-kind, Govt. of Maharashtra has issued National Transit Oriented Development (TOD) notification on both sides of the mass transit corridor.

There shall be a holistic development with growth centers around Metro rail and become a hub for multiple modes of transportation, but it will also help the planning body for Mumbai and its metropolitan region in generating revenue.

Through TOD, the land prices next to and around the Metro stations for both commercial and residential construction will attract high rates and floor space index (FSI), and thus the government could indirectly fetch higher returns.

This has also provided for additional construction rights at the stations. So, our present and upcoming stations are going to multi-story buildings. The upcoming Nagpur metro station will be one-of-its-kind with 20 storeys, and the train will be operating on the 5th floor. Such steps are taken in the direction to remain affordable, he further added.

K V B Reddy statedIf you see the metros globally, standalone no metro can survive financially as a single unit. For the Hyderabad metro, 45 percent of the revenue is coming from the NFBR and 55 percent from the fare revenue box.”

There is a need to address the doubts of the developers, investors, and financial institutions regarding the modalities of the PPP model of development for metro projects to accelerate PPP projects in India, he added.

Nalin Gupta remarks “With the increasing length of metro lines, there is an increase in grids on a Y-o-Y basis. The Delhi metro has already completed three phases and the 4th phase is in progress for another 100 km. In the case of Mumbai, it is having around 38 km out of 150 km is already completed and all these metro lines are getting linked to each other.”

Most of the population will be using the metro line and this growing demand is only going to increase the profitability, he added.

Revising fare box revenue to increase profitability

Dr Brijesh Dixit believes “The aim is to maintain a balance while meeting the objective of operating metros as public transport. The key is to be affordable while being sustainable.”

Nalin Gupta stated, “Today, the metro is one of the most important necessities and it will take some time as we realize its value of it as one of the reliable, safe, and time-saving mode of public transport.”

K V B Reddy said “From an Indian standpoint, affordability is very important. So, it must be balanced. Multiple corridors and interconnectivity facilities are going to increase ridership multifold.”

MetroLite and MetroNeo concept for urban transit model

MetroLite and MetroNeo are low-cost mobility solutions with reduced system requirements and the same experience, and ease of travel in terms of comfort, convenience, affordability, safety, punctuality, reliability, and environment- friendliness as that of the conventional metro rail system.

While it costs Rs 222 crore per km to construct a conventional metro rail, a Metro Lite, which resembles a tramway, costs Rs 140 crore per km, and Metro Neo, which is more like an electric trolleybus, costs Rs 71 crore per km.

Globally, many cities such as Budapest, Melbourne, Vienna, Zurich, Salzburg, San Francisco, Riyadh, and Lyon have these cost and fuel-efficient public transport systems.

Dr Brijesh Dixit said “Metro Neo can be used in the outer areas of metro cities. For example, in Singapore, they are running a Metro Lite line in the outer areas of the cities, while the main city area is covered by the conventional metro.”

I agree that there is a need to control the CAPEX as well as OPEX to ensure long-term financial sustainability. There is a good scope for controlling the cost of construction. For example, we are doing the Pune metro project at Rs. 250 crores per km. So, Metro Lite and Metro Neo will be less costly, and we can have an integrated system, he added.

K V B Reddy said “Metro should be main trunk lines. For the Hyderabad metro, the cost of capitalization per km is Rs. 258 crores. So, Metro Lite and Metro Neo should work like branches. It has to complement the conventional line.”

In Hyderabad, the State Road Transport Corporation runs its buses parallel to the metro and this should be avoided. The Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority is very essential in controlling the Mass Rapid Transit Systems and must work in tandem with Metro for growth, he added.

Broad-gauge Metro as one of the potential ideas

Dr Brijesh Dixit said “The Broad-gauge (BG) Metro concept is being considered for Nagpur metro project. Maha Metro is being appointed for coordination with the Indian Railways. The concept is running the metro on the Indian Railways track and using its existing infrastructure.”

The limitation to this concept is the capacity limitation of the Indian railway’s track. So, the BG Metro will only be viable when this track capacity increases, he added.

Written and Edited by Moulin Oza

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members