India: First Monorail Readies for Take-Off

Jan. 30--MUMBAI -- Sometime early next month, India's first monorail will begin its commercial run on a 9km stretch in Mumbai -- eight years after the project was proposed and six years since it was finalized.

As the take-off nears, P.R.K. Murthy, head of the transport and communication division at the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), is a visibly relieved man.

"We conceived the idea of alternate means of transportation, which included the monorail, sometime in 2005 as part of Mumbai's transportation expansion plans, but the decision to introduce monorail as a feeder service to the mass rapid transit system (MRTS) was taken on 28 September 2008," said Murthy, one of the brains behind the project.

The monorail, built by a consortium of engineering conglomerate Larsen and Toubro Ltd (L&T) and Malaysia-based Scomi Engineering Bhd and owned and operated by MMRDA, will initially run between the eastern suburb of Chembur and Wadala in central Mumbai.

India will join countries like the US, Germany, China, Japan, Australia and Malaysia that run monorails.

A monorail operates its cars on a single beam -- also known as a guideway -- in an elevated corridor, unlike conventional rail systems where a train runs on dual tracks. Also, the beam is narrower than the car following which the train wraps around the track.

Conventional monorails, however, are different from Maglev (magnetic levitation) monorail systems that typically do not have any physical contact with the beam since magnetic forces lift, propel, and guide the vehicle over a guideway.

To ensure that the project was implemented smoothly, L&T had to prepare detailed construction drawings and documents, besides executing construction work and producing 3D geometric models of the guide beams to get erection and casting coordinates for shop drawings.

The consortium also needed software to help build the monorail and bridge real-time collaboration between teams and stakeholders.

All this was easier said than done. For instance, an individual track or guide beam profile is very different from that of roads and highways that are single entities with a top surface -- the lower part of the beam, for instance, is parabolic.

So the consortium chose Autodesk Inc.'s AutoCAD Civil 3D software -- a building information modelling solution with tools to manage, among other things, the creation and digital editing of corridors -- to translate the design from a hard copy into actual coordinates.

The 3D software helped since this was a fast-track project that involved simultaneous collaboration between multiple stakeholders and several iterations during the design-to-execution stages. Also since the project evolved as a digital prototype and accommodated changes digitally, the margin for error in a time-bound project had to be minimized.

Mumbai's monorail has other tech frills such as an automated fare collection system, round-the-clock surveillance through closed circuit television, frame metal detectors and baggage scanners. An operation control centre, which MMRDA said could be "mistaken for a space station", is equipped with videos and train power supply and monitoring tools like SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition).

"Safety is of utmost concern to us," said Murthy, adding that if a monorail driver jumps a signal or becomes immobile during travel and is unable to read signals, the system will activate an automatic train protection system. It will first prompt the driver to apply the brakes through a radio warning, but if that fails too, the system will automatically activate the brakes and bring the train to a halt.

There will also be special lifts to ferry physically challenged persons.

"This is the first monorail project in India and will be the second largest monorail project in the world when completed," said Rajeev Jyoti, chief executive officer of the railway business group at L&T. "This is the first time in India that MRTS project has been designed and commissioned and is being operated by one single agency."

A monorail offers several benefits. An elevated monorail can take sharp turns, climb up and down easily, and run at an average speed of 30kmph and maximum speed of 80kmph, according to Murthy. The narrow guide beams help in congested cities like Mumbai where land is scarce. Besides being eco-friendly, monorails also do not obstruct light since they are much narrower than normal rail tracks.

The straddle-type monorail design, adopted in Mumbai, is named so because the train straddles a steel or reinforced concrete beam. This system is equipped to carry 200,000 passengers daily, and can also handle sharp curves much better than normal trains and Metros.

According to Jyoti, the elevated stations are equipped with all "modern facilities and complying with NFPA (National Fire Protection Agency) 130 norms".

The second phase of the Rs.2,460 crore project, said Murthy, will extend from Wadala to Sant Gadge Maharaj Chowk in south Mumbai -- an 11.2km stretch, but he acknowledged that the monorail "can't act as a main transport system of city -- a load that has to be borne by suburban railway or Metro".

"Given that Mumbai is among the densest cities in the world, one can debate on the choice of going for monorail technology owing to limited carrying capacity of monorail or the fact that the utilized air space may impact future infrastructure," said Santosh Kamath, partner (infrastructure and government services) at consultancy firm KPMG.

P.R. Sanjai contributed to this story.

Copyright 2014 - Mint, New Delhi

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