Putting light rail into the urban mass transit mix is a welcome development

| Updated on October 15, 2019 Published on October 15, 2019

A light rail-based transit system makes more sense for Indian cities, particularly the non-metro ones

Delhi’s much lauded metro rail system sparked a frenzied rush in other cities to build similar metros. Hopefully, with the national capital getting ready to build a light-rail based transit system — one such corridor was approved by the board of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation and the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs recently — other cities will now start paying more attention to the hitherto ignored light rail transit options. A few months earlier, the Maharashtra government became the first to approve a light-rail based transit system for Nashik. The light rail trains in both Delhi and Nashik are expected to run on rubber tyres at street level. In Delhi, the proposed Metrolite project, also being referred to as Metro Neo, is to serve as a feeder service to the conventional metro network while in Nashik, it will be the primary metro project. Chennai and Noida are also considering the feasibility of running light-rail mass transit system to supplement the connectivity provided by the heavy metro trains. These are welcome developments to provide rapid and the affordable transit options to masses. It is noteworthy that the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs nudged States to consider this option instead of the heavy rail-based metro. The Ministry has done well to issue standardised specification of the light urban rail transit system in July 2019, much before any project was finalised. It is also said to be set to issue standards for Metro Neo or light-rail metros that run on rubber tyres.

A light rail-based transit system, rather than a conventional metro system, makes immense sense in Indian cities, particularly the non-metro ones. One, it is much cheaper to build than the metro rail network — some estimate that against ₹200-500 crore per kilometre for the metro system, the Metrolite system would cost about ₹60-100 crore, depending on the infrastructure required to be created. Two, light rail projects are financially more viable in smaller cities. Three, light rail networks allow greater flexibility in route planning, as they take up less space and the trains can navigate sharper curves, unlike the traditional heavy rail metro networks, thus limiting the area of land required to be acquired. Four, light rail systems do not require the kind of station infrastructure that a metro rail system needs — the station can be a small platform (much like a bus stop), the automatic fare collecting machine can be replaced with tap on-tap off ticket validators at the stops and on the trains, and the need for X-ray bag scanners and door frame metal detectors can be done away with.

All our cities need mass rapid transit systems to provide affordable commuting and to curb the growth of vehicular traffic on roads and thus keep emissions under check. However, only some cities need metros. A combination of multi-modal solutions that are integrated for ease of transfer from one mode to the other with a common travel card or tickets is the need of the hour.

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Published on October 15, 2019
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