The Chennai Monorail network was supposed to be constructed rapidly and branch out into the city's booming suburbs. A 2014 deadline was set for the operational inauguration of at least one of the four lines in the 111-km long Phase-I.

But the lack of enough eligible participants in the bidding process and the subsequent decision to float a new tender for the project have come as temporary stumbling blocks. Many experts say that the eligibility criteria set by the government in the initial tender were too ambitious. .

The original Request For Quotation (RFQ) document of the global tender, which was initiated on August 15, says that in order to pre-qualify, a participating consortium/company should have been awarded an urban rail project (suburban, metro, monorail or tramway) with a minimum route length of 37-km within the last three years. Since awarding of the contract alone was sufficient, the project need not be operational.

Following the pre-bid meeting on September 8, the minimum route length required was changed to 25 km. An additional clause was added to allow those who had built a 12-km monorail line (not any urban rail project), which had also begun commercial operation, to participate.

A senior executive of a prominent monorail manufacturer, which was part of the bidding process, said that the bigger problem was the condition that the projects should have been awarded or constructed under a Public Private Partnership (PPP) model. One of the first monorail networks in the world to be built under a PPP model is coming up in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where an extensive monorail system is being built ahead of the 2014 FIFA football world cup.

The only city where a monorail line is under construction in India is Mumbai, where it is being built under what is called an EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction) contract. There are simply not enough monorail systems in the world that have been built under the PPP model. Official sources said that though over 15 entities initially elicited interest, a mere three qualified.

The monorail company executive said that some people were rendered eligible to participate only because of change in tender conditions. “A lot of things went wrong with the tender,” he said.

“I think senior members in the government sensed something was amiss. The Metropolitan Transport Corporation Managing Director (the nodal officer for the project) was transferred in a week after the government decided to float a new tender,” he added. Senior officials in the monorail cell were also shunted out overnight.

A senior government official said that the Finance Department is reviewing the new tender to be floated. “The Empowered Monorail Committee would take a decision shortly,” he added. The eligibility criteria are expected to be tweaked a bit.

There would also be several costs and benefits associated with Chennai's decision to go in for a PPP model. Unlike Mumbai's EPC model, where the city would own the monorail lines but the operator would be paid a monthly fee to run the trains, Chennai's monorail system would belong to a private operator for 30 years.

P.R.K. Murthy, head of the Transportation Division of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority, said: “Under the PPP model, the city has to keep paying back the operator for decades. Sometimes, it is lucrative to invite a private player just to operate after the government builds the infrastructure.”

N. S. Srinivasan, former director, National Transportation Planning and Research Centre, said: “The government has to ensure there are adequate safeguards. It should have a say in, for example, the train frequency, the fare structure and the service quality.”