Breakfast Meeting: Smart Infrastructure – The Transport Network: Chennai Metro Rail

A breakfast meeting was held on 19th August with Mr. Pankaj Kumar Bansal, IAS, Managing Director, Chennai Metro Rail, as the guest speaker.


Mr. Bansal began his presentation by giving a geographical description and demographics of Chennai. He said that Chennai is the fourth-largest city in India generating about 11 million trips in a day, of which about 6 million is vehicular trips. The ever growing vehicular and passenger demands coupled with constraints on capacity augmentation of the existing network have resulted in a chaotic condition during peak hours of the day.  He said that the population of the city in 1639 was 40,000 and today the estimated population is 7.5 million.


Mr. Bansal said the rail infrastructure in the metropolitan area comprises 3 sections of broad gauge suburban routes originating out of Chennai towards the north (48km), west (69 km) and south 30 km), all of which are saturated heavy density routes. Chennai is the only Indian city to boast of a mass rapid transport system (MRTS overhead rail network on pillars) in the north south direction from Chennai Beach to Velachery with a route length of 20 km. He also mentioned the road network in the metropolitan area which is in a radial pattern with 3 principal arterials, viz. NH-5, NH-4, NH-45, to the north, west and south respectively. In addition, there are two more radial arterials along the coast on the northern side (Thiruvotriyur High Road) and between NH-4 and NH-45 (Arcot Road).


Mr. Bansal then spoke in detail about the transportation studies carried out in Chennai which discussed the travel pattern, network characteristics and the degree of traffic saturation on the existing roads in the study area. The studies recommended transportation improvements have been reviewed during the preparation of second master plan. As part of the study short, medium and long-term measures for improvement of road and transport infrastructure were identified and prioritized for investment purposes.


Accordingly a feasibility study was done in 2003 to select and prioritize the corridors for Chennai Metro Rail Network and the following corridors were recommended:


  • Corridor-1: From  Airport – Guindy – Sardar Patel Road – Kotturpuram High Road – Cenotaph Road – Anna Salai – Gemini – Spencers – Tarapore Towers – along Cooum River upto Ripon Building – Central Station – Broadway – Old Jail Road – Tiruvottiyur High Road ending in Tiruvottiyur
  • Corridor-2: From Alandur – Koyambedu – Anna Nagar Arch – Aminjikarai – Kilpauk Medical College – Egmore and terminating at Central Station
  • Corridor-3: From Ambathur Industrial Area – Mogapair – Ring Road – Arcort Road – Panagal Park – Theagaraya Road – Eldams Road – Luz Church Road – RK Mutt Road – Adayar Bridge – Lattice Bridge Road terminating at Tiruvanmiyur
  • Corridor-4:  From Porur – Kodambakkam via Arcort Road – Panagal Park – Theagaraya Road – Eldams Road – Luz Church Road – Kutchery Road – ending at Kamarajar Salai
  • Corridor-5: Along the outer Ring Road
  • Corridor-6: From Radhakrishnan Salai – Nugambakkam High Road – Mc. Nichols Road – KMC
  • Corridor-7: Along NH 5


Out of these the first two corridors have been approved by the state government for implementation under phase I:


  • Corridor-1: Airport to Washermanpet (now extended upto WIMCO Nagar)
  • Corridor-2: Fort – Anna Nagar- Ring Road – St. Thomas Mount


Mr. Bansal said that the government of Tamil Nadu created an SPV to implement the metro rail project and it is a JV between the central and state governments.  He said that the vison of Chennai Metro Rail is ‘moving people, sustaining growth’ and its mission is: “We shall provide a safe, fast, reliable, accessible, convenient, comfortable, efficient and affordable public transport service preferred by all in a sustainable manner.” He went on to state that the core values of CMRL is concern for customers; integrity; sustainability; responsibility; creativity and innovation and punctuality.


Mr. Bansal said that the first line of 10 km was commissioned in June 2015 between Koyambedu and Alandur. He said that the fare fixation was done keeping in mind that the metro was not in competition with the city bus services, but was trying to wean away those who drive in cars and ride two wheelers. Speaking on the cost of the Chennai metro, Mr. Bansal mentioned that over 55% of the total route length was underground, unlike the metros of other cities. He added that the soil conditions in Chennai were sandy, clayey and rock in different places and hence the higher cost per route kilometer as the rock mining was very expensive and time consuming, given that different technologies are used for the different sub terrain conditions. He also said that the entire metro was air-conditioned and had full length platform screen doors, which will slide open to align with the doorways of the metro rail coach. Several passenger friendly facilities have been provided for such as lifts, escalators (only in upward direction at present), parking, drinking water, toilets, first aid etc. To a question on whether the Chennai metro will subsidize the fare by developing the real estate potential, Mr. Bansal said that the government is not good at commercial real estate development and the core competency of metro rail was to run trains. However, he added that the Chennai metro will have select commercial facilities at the stations in the near future.


On the possibility of Chennai Metro issuing smart cards that can be used as a multi purpose card including for use in ticketing in metro trains, suburban trains, city buses, automatic parking at multiple locations and for small retail transactions, Mr. Bansal said thay experimenting with different systems currently and until the end use devices are not ready on all city buses, the metro rail will not introduce this system. However, a limited use for the other services, the metro rail will introduce smart cards on a trial basis. He said that eight companies, including Japan’s Nippon Signal Co. Ltd., are in a race to provide APS for CMRL. He said that CMRL plans to have a sophisticated APS that will include elements ranging from traditional traveller information system to quick and automatic gate control systems using contactless media such as CMRL travel card and near field communication, advanced parking management application, pre-trip web-based information systems, variable message sign boards, real-time information on mobile application.

In response to a question Mr. Bansal said that seven companies have bid for the automatic fare collection project and evaluation is underway. He invited U.S. companies to check on the metro rail website for opportunities in providing their products and services. He added that they could contact AmCham for further information.

Mr. Bansal said that Chennai Metro Rail will take over the MRTS services in two years and thereafter change the tracks, rolling stock and re-design platforms and signaling systems to be in sync with the rest of the metro rail operations. He applauded the dedication of metro rail employees who operated services round the clock during the Chennai rains last year. He said that the metro rakes require 5 hours for maintenance and that though the depots were submerged during the rains, the entire maintenance operations were shifted on the overhead viaducts and employees stayed on metro rail premises to ensure smooth 24×7 operations. However, though services operate from 6:00 am to 10:00 pm at night, the timings could not be extended due to lack of ridership during lean hours.


Mr. A. Viswanathan, Vice Chairman – Tamil Nadu Chapter, AmCham, thanked Mr. PK Bansal for his very detailed and interesting presentation and the meeting concluded.