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Wednesday, Feb 25, 2004

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Bengal studying plans for Kolkata monorail project

Mohan Padmanabhan

Kolkata Feb. 24

THE West Bengal Chief Minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, is determined to unclog the State's transport system by providing an alternative hi-tech mode at the earliest, beginning with Kolkata.

The State transport department, along with other bodies like the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, is now closely examining some two or three proposals for a speedy light transit railway system (monorail project).

Among the technology giants who have already made preliminary concept paper presentations are RUF International of Denmark in collaboration with Srei International Finance, Itochu of Japan and a three-member consortium of BCD Oil & Food, West Indies, InterGlob of Switzerland and Sahara India. A decision is expected within a month.

According to informed sources, the Srei-RUF combine has already submitted detailed proposals for the monorail project based on the most modern RUF (rapid urban flexible) transportation system. (RUF in Danish means "go fast".) The combine has pegged the capital investment, including installation costs, at around Rs 1,500 crore.

They have also presented a pucca revenue model, based on similar international light railway systems operating in modern cities such as Denmark and Los Angeles.

As per a comparative (with other rail and road transport systems) fare structure indicated, travel by a RUF train would cost 0.75 paise per passenger per km, against Rs 1.50 per passenger per km by taxi, 0.86 paise by AC chair car, Rs 1.20 by AC III tier and 0.67 paise by AC bus. The fare chart has factored in average speeds of 80 km per hour.

According to sources, in RUF operations, safety of passengers is ensured owing to the perfect guidance system, which makes derailment and on-track collisions virtually impossible. The rail brakes here can be used for efficient emergency braking, and on rails, drivers are not required, as the guidance system ensures high stability and removes driver fatigue.

Going by the proposed revenue model, the State Government would not be required to do any funding, but only provide land (in lieu of equity participation), and also set up a special purpose vehicle. The basic revenue streams identified are fares from passengers, cargo, advertisements, hoardings etc., at parking rails and stations and commercialising of station approach spaces.

RUF is acknowledged as a revolutionary breakthrough in conventional city transport systems, and operates on a dual mode: a) Mass transit system through automatic driverless people mover units (PMUs) on monorail and road, and b) Individual ownership of small electric cars on monorail and road. Hundred per cent accessibility is ensured as it can run on road as well as on rail in the form of private cars, buses, trams and trains (both passenger and goods trains).

In addition, RUF can run parallel to the road and on top of a triangular monorail. (While on road, it operates on normal road wheels). On rail, it can draw electricity from rail and run the motors, and on road, small batteries provide current for running the motors.

Compared to a weight of 1,000 kg/m for a typical train (including rolling stock), RUF is cited as being much lighter at 400 kg/m, which means the land required for movement of the system is minimal.

According to the Srei-RUF proposal, mass production of ultra light triangular monorail is possible, making it highly cost effective in terms of construction.

The project, as per the concept paper, involves a total distance of 180 km (both road and monorail), emanating from Naihati in North 24 Parganas and ending at Namkhana in South 24 Parganas, and having 40 stations.

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