Mumbai moves: First stretches of Metro, Monorail start this year

NAT
The first stretches of Metro and monorail will open this year, the trans-harbour link and a water transport network in the years to follow. But these transport projects have taken years in a city with unique problems.

Mumbai is set to complete a number of transport infrastructure projects this year. The first Metro corridor will come up on the Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar route in a city whose suburban railway system has been its lifeline for ages. So will the first phase of the country's first monorail line, on the Chembur-Wadala-Jacob Circle route. The city will also get the wide, east-west Santacruz Chembur Link Road (SCLR) and the north-south Eastern Freeway, which will include Asia's first set of urban road tunnels. These projects are together worth over Rs 6,600 crore.

And over the next five to seven years, projects worth Rs 69,500 crore should improve the transport network even further if planning agencies can move from blueprint to reality.

Among these are the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL), touted as the country's longest sea link; a passenger water transport system for a comfortable, daily commute; and underground sections of the Metro for high-speed connectivity to the Mumbai airport and to SEEPZ, an industrial and export promotion zone.

Some projects, however, have failed to see the light of day. These include the Western Freeway and the Charkop-Bandra-Mankhurd elevated Metro corridor. In both cases, the government and the developers have failed to agree on certain issues.

Trademark problems

The problems along the way of the projects nearing completion included some very peculiar to the city. Finding and acquiring land are a bigger hurdle than they are elsewhere. Land is a scarce resource with three million residents sharing the space of an unplanned city at a density of 20,000 people per square metre. Large portions of public land along the alignment of these projects had been encroached by slums, many of these protected under government policies.

"If the alignment of a project passes through a slum, we cannot do even basic investigations such as boring and checking rock strength. Also, land once cleared is susceptible to fresh encroachment," said an official with the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), working on the Eastern Freeway project, which has struggled to clear encroachments and rehabilitate 7,000 families.

Rehabilitation is an involved process. The authority has to survey how many families are affected, then determine with the help of the district collector how many of them are eligible for rehabilitation. In some cases, it involves mowing down buildings and commercial establishments whose residents prefer not to be equated with slum dwellers. In such cases, litigation and negotiations slow down the project. The authority took several years before it could demolish 13 residential buildings in Tilak Nagar and two in Netaji Nagar to make way for the SCLR.

Nearly all these projects also involved shifting religious structures and faced opposition from the trusts that owned them. The SCLR, for which at least 10 such structures were shifted, still has one Hanuman temple to deal with. For the Metro, the MMRDA could obtain complete right of way only last year, nearly five years after construction had started, having struggled to convince the authorities of a mosque in Andheri and a temple in Ghatkopar to hand over a portion of their land.

Again, the entrenched south-north railway network means lines often cross east-west projects such as the SCLR or the Metro. These need clearance from Central Railway or Western Railway, and the design is sometimes changed, after which the proposal goes to the Commissioner of Railway Safety for final approval. "For the SCLR, Central Railway made us change the design of the bridge over the railway tracks at least four times," an official working on the project said. Central Railway took nearly five years to clear an SCLR portion over the railway tracks, while clearance to the launching scheme of one of two bridges is still pending. Western Railway took more than 18 months to allow the Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar Metro over the Andheri tracks.

Another problem lies underground: a mesh of utilities for water and sewerage, not clearly mapped. When authorities started digging to lay pile foundations, they often struck utilities unmarked on civic maps. At times the utilities had to be diverted or cased; in extreme cases minor alterations had to be made to the design. "There were unexpected utilities at the location of almost every pier. We had 360 pier locations in the first phase and 430 in the second phase. We try to divert such utilities but that needs permission from the civic body and it takes nearly one month to get one approval processed, leading to delays," said a junior MMRDA engineer working on the monorail.

Hurdle and innovation

Land acquisition is proving the key issue for the later projects too. To build the MTHL, a 22-km link across the city's harbour connecting Sewri in the island city and Nhava Sheva in Navi Mumbai, the state needed to acquire nearly 125 hectares, 22 per cent of it private land.

"About 28 hectares need to be acquired from private owners in the villages of Gavan, Jasai and Chirle located in Uran taluk, and local resistance can create an obstacle," an engineer said.

For projects where land is required on a large scale, such as the 126-km Virar-Alibaug Multimodal Corridor, the state is looking at newer methods of acquisition. The MMRDA has to acquire 1,261 hectares, a substantial part of it farmland. It plans to adopt a model extensively followed in Gujarat, with project-affected people made stakeholders. This is done by acquiring more land than required, developing the excess land with infrastructure, and then giving project-affected people plots on the developed land. The MMRDA is waiting for an amendment in the current town planning scheme to make this possible.

For the underground Metro, the MMRDA has to acquire less land but it is facing local resistance at a couple of places. The Churchgate-Virar elevated rail corridor too is stuck, pending an agreement with the state government so that land acquisition can be easier.

False starts

State planners had foreseen the city's transport predicaments decades ago and recommended several of these projects. What held them up were risk factors surrounding the big-ticket projects, disinterest among bidders, and politics.

The MTHL was conceived more than three decades ago, but it was only in 2005 that the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) invited bids. The bids submitted then by the Ambani brothers were considered unrealistic. Bids were re-invited in 2008 and 13 companies showed an interest, yet none submitted a bid. In 2011, the government handed the project to the MMRDA, which is now executing it through a public-private partnership.

The water transport system was proposed about a decade ago, but this too went through three failed rounds of tendering. This time, the MSRDC has finalised contracts in packages. Construction of terminals is due to start this year.

"All these projects were recommended many years ago. It is a colossal failure that these were not implemented earlier," said Ashok Datar, a transport expert in the city. "We wasted time on the wrong projects such as the Bandra Worli Sea Link, which was built at a very high cost but services very few people, when the simple projects should have got focus. It all comes down to lack of political will, nothing else."

Stalemate

The Worli-Haji Ali sea link, part of the proposed Western Freeway, and the Charkop-Bandra-Mankhurd elevated Metro corridor have reached a stalemate due to reasons such as tiffs between the government agency and the concessionaire Reliance Infrastructure in both cases or even lack of clarity within the government.

The Western Freeway, along with the Eastern Freeway under construction, would have created a ring route around Mumbai. The idea was conceived more than 30 years ago. The MSRDC decided to make a corridor of sea links from Nariman Point to Versova, of which the Bandra-Worli sea link was one. In 2010, the agency awarded the contract for the construction of the next arm, the Worli-Haji Ali sea link, to Reliance Infrastructure.

Two years on, the contract is in the process of being closed due to differences between the government and the developer over issues such as payment of viability gap funding.

There is no clarity either on whether the idea of having a western freeway of sea links will be replaced with the plan for a coastal road around Mumbai a project being strongly pushed by the state government through a combination of reclamation, construction on stilts, and tunnels.

Construction of the 32-km Charkop-Bandra-Mankhurd Metro, which was to be operational by 2014, has not even begun due a standoff between the MMRDA and a Reliance Infrastructure-led consortium in charge of construction over issues such as lack of suitable land for a car shed and handing over complete right of way.

There is also a school of thought within the state government favouring conversion of the project from an elevated Metro into an underground one, but no formal decision has been taken yet.

COMING UP THIS YEAR

Metro

Elevated Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar corridor, 11.4 km, 12 stations. The trip from the city's western suburbs to the eastern suburbs will come down to 20 minutes from the current 90 minutes by road. The Metro will carry an average six lakh passengers a day at a fare 1 times the public bus fare. The project will give Mumbai its second cable-stayed bridge, 21 m high. The Metro is being built by the Reliance Infrastructure-led Mumbai Metro One Pvt Ltd on a public-private partnership. Construction started in February 2008 and the initial deadline was 2011.

Monorail

Expected by August. An 8.3-km stretch between Chembur and Wadala will be the first phase of the 20-km Chembur-Wadala-Jacob Circle corridor. The completed corridor will be the second-longest in the world, behind Japan's Osaka corridor. Rather than serving as a mass rapid transit system, experts see the Rs-2,700-crore monorail as a feeder service to suburban railway stations such as Chembur, Wadala and Mahalakshmi. Each air-conditioned rake will be able to carry only 562 passengers 852 if the MMRDA decides to increase the rakes from four to six. A consortium of Larsen & Toubro and Malaysia's Scomi Engineering is building the monorail. Construction started in November 2008 and the line was originally expected to be ready by 2011.

SCLR

Part of the World Bank-funded Mumbai Urban Transport Project. It will be a 6.45-km, six-lane road between the eastern and western suburbs. It will have the city's first double-decked bridge. One of the most delayed projects, it involves widening the existing roads at certain places and creating new roads at other. Begun in 2003, it was originally scheduled for completion in 2008. The cost has risen threefold from Rs 115 crore to Rs 435 crore.

Eastern Freeway

Direct access from Orange Gate in south Mumbai to Ghatkopar, easing traffic on Ambedkar Road and Eastern Express Highway. Has three parts: a 9.3-km elevated road from Orange Gate to Anik-Panjarpol Link Road, a 5-km corridor from there to Panjarpol-Ghatkopar Link Road, then a 2.5-km Panjarpol-Ghatkopar corridor. It will boast Asia's first urban transport tunnels on the Anik-Panjarpol section. "The Eastern Freeway is a miracle of a project. The main problem was the sheer number of encroachments and affected people. On Port Trust land there were road bridges, full on encroachments, and we had to do segmental construction literally with people living underneath," an engineer said. Construction of the project, part-funded under JNNURM, started in 2008 and was then expected to be complete in three years. Opening now scheduled for March end or April.

Next 5-7 years

Mumbai Trans Harbour Link

22 km between island city and Navi Mumbai. Expected to be completed in 2018, it will have cost Rs 9,630 crore. A six-lane road with a provision of two lanes for a Metro line, to be taken up later. It will connect to the proposed Navi Mumbai airport and to the Eastern Freeway on the island side. The MMRDA has also planned a Worli-Sewri elevated corridor to provide access to MTHL to commuters from the western suburbs who take the Bandra-Worli Sea Link. Faced some concerns as it passes through spots where migratory birds flock. The environment ministry has cleared it.

Multimoda lCorridor 126 km, Virar to alibaug.

Will connect to towns such as Bhiwandi, Kalyan, Dombivali. The Rs-12,975-crore, eight-lane corridor will incorporate Metro lines, lanes for vehicular traffic, dedicated bus lanes, a cycling track and pedestrian walkways. It will intersect the proposed MTHL at Panvel. The first phase, 79 km from Virar to Chirner, is expected by 2017-18. The second, 47 km, will be from Chirner to Alibaug. The MMRDA is currently working on a proposal for green clearance, and waiting for legislation to come into effect before it can start land acquisition.

Colaba-Bandra-Seepz Metro 34 km, fully underground.

Project worth Rs 24,500 crore is being executed as a cash contract, will be commissioned by 2019. It will intersect the elevated Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar corridor. Other than facing acquisition issues at some places, the project is awaiting clearance from the Centre's public investment board; 15 per cent is Centrally funded. MMRDA in the process of formalising agreement with Japan International Cooperation Agency for financing.

Water Transport

Borivali to nariman point, stops at Marve, Versova, Bandra and Juhu on the western coast. Vessels AC, travel time shorter than now. Eastern coast route is Mandwa to Ferry Wharf with halt at Nerul; with service for vehicles. Infrastructure includes parking lots and AC terminals. Project cost is Rs 915.3 crore for west coast and Rs 440.47 for east. Terminals will be ready in the next two years, after which MSRDC will rope in passenger vessel companies. Awaiting environmental clearance, approvals from Maharashtra Maritime Board, and from Mumbai Port Trust for east terminals.

Elevated rail from churchgate to vihar.

Not enough space for lateral expansion alongside existing tracks. Railways plan the two-track corridor with AC rakes. Rs-21,000-crore, 63-km corridor (42.72 km elevated, 8.04 km underground, 12.52 at grade) will be built under a public-private partnership, likely to be operational by 2020. State has given "in-principle" approval, formalities remain. There is also a proposal for a 49-km fast corridor on CST-Panvel harbour line.

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