Kochi: The Kerala state government vows completing its ambitious 529-kilometer-long SilverLine semi-high speed rail project in three years and making it profitable through a set of revenue-generating measures in addition to the money generated from tickets.
Mathrubhumi.com examines various aspects of the K-Rail project in comparison with the Kochi Metro, which became operational in the year 2017.
Ever since its inaugural run, the Kochi Metro has been sustaining a loss of rupees nearly 80 lakhs on an average per day. From the annual loss of Rs 167.33 crores in the financial year 2017-18, its loss almost doubled to Rs 334.40 crores in the year 2020-21 with Rs 281.23 crore loss in 2018-19 and Rs 310 crores in 2019-20.
Loss incurred by Kochi Metro
The Kochi Metro expected a footfall of at least 1 lakh passengers per day and to steadily rise revenue; but the average footfall now is just 20,000. There were instances, during holidays and other special events, the footfall rose to even 60,000; but well below the expectation and its new Managing Director Lokanath Behera's vision of making footfall 2 lakhs per day.
The government expects a footfall of 80,000 passengers per day in K-Rail. Ironically, the most vibrant Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train is hopeful of only 36,000 passengers per day.
The construction cost of Aluva-Pettah stretch of Kochi metro was Rs 6218.14 crores and the stretch between Pettah and SN Junction is expected to be completed in a few months at a cost of Rs 710.93 crores. The SN Junction-Tripunithura line is expected to be completed by December 2022 at a cost of Rs 448.33 crores. The second phase of the metro from Kaloor Stadium to Kakkanad awaits the approval of the Union Cabinet. It will cost Rs 1957.05 crores. The Water Metro is expected to run sooner this year. The amount spent for finishing all these projects were well above the estimated cost. By taking this into account, experts opined that K-Rail can only be finished at a cost of 1.5 lakh crores against the proposal of 64,000 crores.
If we take into account the pace at which the first phase of Kochi Metro was finished, it will take at least 127 years for the K-Rail to become a reality, said KP Kannan, noted economist.
“It took six years for the Kochi Metro to complete a 25 kilometer stretch; which means only 4.16 kilometres were finished in one year. So for the completion of 530 kilometer K-Rail, at least 127 year must be needed, if no miracle happens," said KP Kannan.
Delhi Metro was finished much faster than Kochi Metro due to the speedy acquisition of land and resource generation. "Going by the data available, Delhi Metro could complete a stretch of 14 kilometres in one year. Even then, it will take 37 years to finish K-Rail," he added.
It is unclear on what basis the state government vows to finish K-Rail by 2025. “The project is not at all necessary for Kerala as speed is not the hindrance for development here. The state is already suffering from a severe financial crunch and this project will add up to the mess," he added.
He also alleged that the claims of the state government on K-Rail do not have any factual basis, like what E Sreedharan, RVG Menon and Alok Verma have stated. "By spending Rs 10,000 to 15,000 crores for modernising Indian Railways, we can attain a speed of minimum 130 kilometers per hour. We don't know the mystery why the state government is adamant on the implementation of the project. Usually, a political decision to implement a project is taken after examining its social, financial and technical aspects. However, here a political decision was taken first and then they are thinking of all studies associated with the project. Now the public have started questioning the motive of the state government in the project. The project is well away from the developmental and financial interests of the state. The project has justification either on public finance ground or economic viability or environmental feasibility. We claim this after thoroughly examining the DPR of the project. Even the government failed to give a professional reply on the concerns raised by experts," added Kannan.
He also said that the project will be in total loss. "The government expects a footfall of 80,000 passengers per day at a time the most vibrant Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train may get only 36,000 passengers per day. The sample survey done in this regard is totally unscientific. The project will only lead to an unnecessary tension between the state and the public and it will disrupt peace in the state. The government should back off from the project at least by taking into account the emerging conflicts now," added Kannan.
According to a statement issued by the Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL), by getting one-lakh commuters per day the operational loss can be curtailed down to a great extent.
“We are going to achieve this by increasing 'First Mile & Last Mile Connectivity' by way of intelligently using bicycles, electric autos and buses. Similarly, several concession verticals will be used at various points of time to attract more passengers. Once Water Metro becomes a reality, we can integrate water transport with road and rail. Government has also approved procurement of 10 Hydrogen buses by KMRL in due course, which will also be used for First Mile & Last Mile Connectivity. We are now aggressively marketing for non-fare box revenue through digital advertisements, making the metro stations more attractive with a number of commuter-oriented facilities and by permitting activities such as singing, painting, taking selfies, etc. in stations,” said an official from KMRL.