Criticised HSRL neither fast nor furious

The Karnataka state government’s deadlines to launch mega transport projects continue to be paper statements of intent. Namma Metro’s persistent delay is now virtually taken for granted. In the meantime, despite the deadline of 2013-14, Bangalore’s Rs.6700 crores High Speed Rail Link (HSRL between city centre and the airport) is still stuck at the preliminary stage.

A concessionaire, the firm that will fund, build and operate the PPP, is yet to be selected through tender process; construction will start only after the concessionaire awards tenders to other parties. Currently, only prequalification of concessionaires is completed. Prequalification is the process of screening companies based on their performance and resources, to decide if they are competent.

After prequalification comes RFP or Request For Proposal, wherein bidders are invited to submit proposals, then call for quotations and finally selection of concessionaire.

Currently the RFP documents are pending approval of central government, says N Jayaram, Director (Technical) at BARL. BARL (Bangalore Airport Rail Link) is the SPV (Special Purpose Vehicle) for implementing the project, which has state and central governments and BIAL as its shareholders.

HSRL Stations

* Four stations plannned: Cubbon Road, Hebbal, Yelahanka and BIAL.
* Check-in facility at Cubbon Road and Hebbal stations for both domestic and international travellers.
* Cubbon Road station will have 60 check-in counters each for domestic and international travellers.
* Airline ticket offices, shops, restaurants and rest rooms will be provided, along with parking facility of about 1800 for park-and-fly passengers.
* There will be no check-in at Yelahanka station, but passengers can carry their baggage.
* Trains and passenger movement areas in stations will be air conditioned. There will be luggage space facility and TV screens on the back of seats.

HSRL’s route from Cubbon Road to the last station at Devanahalli airport. Each marker on the map is a station. Mapping tool: Google.

The 33-km long HSRL will take 25 minutes to travel from Cubbon road station and reach BIAL station. It has maximum operational speed of 145 km/hr and average speed of 85 km/hr. The Cubbon road station will be built around the Metro rail ramp that connects Minsk Square underground station with the elevated MG Road station.

Each train will have six coaches, which includes one Driving Motor Car, one Driving Motor cum Luggage Car, two Motor Cars and two Trailer Cars. Total passenger capacity is 424, which includes 350 seating, 71 standing and three wheelchairs.

Ticketing & Connectivity

Ticket vending will be through Automatic Fare Collection system, wherein contactless cards and tokens will be used – these can be collected manually or through vending machines at the stations.

Traffic integration facilities like separate pedestrian areas, parking areas and approach roads to stations will be designed.

There are plans to integrate HSRL with buses or other modes of transport. Integration sites of 3000, 2000 and 1000 sq mts respectively are planned in Cubbon road, Hebbal and Yelahanka stations. HSRL may be integrated with Metro rail in Yelahanka station and with Mono Rail/Light Rail Transit in Hebbal station.

Fares

The proposed fare structure is Rs 200 from Cubbon Road to BIAL, Rs 150 from Hebbal to BIAL and Rs 100 from Yelahanka to BIAL. Monthly and quarterly season tickets will be Rs 50 per journey and Rs 2000 for 40 journeys.

HSRL Schedule

In 2014, the target is to have one train every 10 minutes. In 2016 there will be one every eight minutes and in 2021, one every six minutes. There will be no service a few hours everyday due to maintenance. The total number of trains will be 10 in 2014, 12 in 2016 and 15 in 2021.

The project is expected to cost Rs 6736.03 crores as per the Detailed Project Report (DPR), a copy of which is with Citizen Matters. The project is using the PPP-DBFOT (Design Build Finance Operate Transfer) model. Concessionaire will provide the equity, while state government will lease out its lands free of cost. Private land acquisition will be done by KIADB. Concessionaire can operate the project for 30 years, which includes the time for construction.

Artist’s impression of Cubbon Road Station. Pic Courtesy: BARL

"Concessionaire’s financial model has to be approved by government, after which it will design the project, award tenders and operate the project. BARL is only a shell company for holding transactions," says N Jayaram, Director (Technical) at BARL.

Construction norms are set by DMRC (Delhi Metro Rail Corporation), which is the consultant for the project. DPR for the project was first prepared in October 2007 and revised in January 2010.

Change in passenger traffic

The original estimation of passenger traffic to BIAL has been revised. While the 2007 DPR estimated based on HAL airport numbers about 17 million passengers in 2010-11, BIAL’s actual figures show that it was only about 11 million last year. For the years up to 2027, the current estimates show a decrease of 30-35% in the traffic estimates as compared to the previous calculations. Currently, traffic is expected to be 6750 during BIAL peak hours and 2650 during BIAL non-peak hours.

Jayaram says that the discrepancy would be bridged as the number of non-air passengers would increase with proposed investment of Rs 4,15,000 cr around BIAL. "After 2007, number of air passengers dropped during recession. Currently 32,000 passengers are travelling to BIAL per day. But work on other developments have started. With this, the number of non-air passengers is expected to be 2.5 times that of air passengers by the time HSRL operates. Then total users will be higher in number than the 2007 estimate," he says.

Land acquisition and tree cutting

Around 371 trees on the alignment will be cut and another 254 will be pruned – most of these are in private properties. Around 29 hectare of private land and 37 hectares of government land will be acquired, for stations, traffic integration facilities etc. Rs 532 cr is set aside for acquisition of private lands and widening of NH. NH widening will be undertaken by NHAI (National Highway Authority of India). Compensation rate fixed for private land acquisition is Rs. 10,750-29,562 per sq.m. Acquisition is in preliminary stage, says Jayaram.

A High Power Committee under the Chief Secretary, GoK is supposed meet once a month to handle cases of land acquisition, rehabilitation of affected people and utility diversion. Various government departments and representatives of BIAL and Indian Railways will be part of the committee.

Yet another white elephant?

Questions on viability of HSRL have raised. Devesh Agarwal, former Head of the BCIC (Bangalore Chamber of Industry and Commerce) Committee on Infrastructure, says that HSRL should be replaced by the cheaper Metro rail, as air passengers are less likely to use it and non-air passengers would prefer cheaper modes of transport.

"Traffic congestion is higher before one reaches Cubbon road station; so if passengers hire a cab up until this point, they might as well travel the remaining distance in it. And if they use Metro instead, they will have to walk about 400 m from Minsk Square Metro station to HSRL station, with luggage. The highest usage of HSRL in the world is 26%, in Hong Kong", says Agarwal.

He says that even the employees in airport complex won’t use the facility due to high costs. "They are already unwilling to use Vayu Vajra buses which charge Rs 50 per journey, and employers are already providing them cheaper transport," adds Agarwal.

Rajeev Chandrashekhar, Rajya Sabha MP and Convenor of ABIDe (Agenda for Bengaluru Infrastructure and Development Task Force) says that ABIDe had put forth the same suggestion earlier. "HSRL is only marginally faster than Metro and that too because it stops in fewer stations. Metro stations already exist in city centre; HSRL requires new infrastructure. HSRL tariff may also be increased by private partner in the PPP the name of viability, whereas Metro is funded by government and more transparent."

About Navya P K 241 Articles
Navya P K is a former senior staff journalist at Citizen Matters, and a freelance journalist based in Kerala.

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