Under pressure from the PMO, Railways and State government officials together have redrawn a new alignment

Pursuant to pressure from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the Western Railway is expecting the Maharashtra government to sign a support agreement by the month end which would put the premium 60 km Churchgate-Virar Elevated Rail Corridor in Mumbai, the biggest Public Private Partnership (PPP) project in the country so far, on course.

This would be the first step towards winning the confidence of bidders for the Rs. 21,000-crore two-track project with the capacity to transport 90,000 passengers per hour in the superior travel comfort of air-conditioned coaches.

The objective is to address capacity constraints on the present suburban system, which during peak hours presents a scary picture with women too clinging to reach their destination in time. Trespassing on these tracks claim at least 10 to 15 lives every day.

Western Railway General Manager, Mukesh Kumar, told a visiting team of journalists that two more tracks were being constructed to ease the pressure, besides the elevated corridor, which had got stuck up for various reasons. Allegations were that there were objections from notable persons who detested the elevated corridor overlooking their residences.

Under pressure from the PMO, during the past eight months, Railway and State government officials together have redrawn a new alignment and now they are in the midst of signing an agreement to convey the message to the private concessionaire that both the State and the Centre were in mutual agreement on the details of the project and that the private players should have no cause for concern on any issue.

The Railways are seeking the State government to agree to shift utilities, grant required space and help it in relief and rehabilitation of those displaced due to the project. The realignment has reduced the number of displaced people as a good part of the corridor will now be underground.

Three private firms — L&T, GMR and IL&FS — have evinced interest in the project. The Railways hope to finalise the contract over the next three months. Mr. Kumar said talks were on with other private firms as well.

While only one player is usually chosen for a project, Mr. Kumar said it would be difficult to say whether more than one entity would be enlisted for the purpose, given the magnitude of the project. He admitted that they were seeking more concessions from the Railways, which, however, he did not divulge.

Expected to be completed in five years, the price structure for the eight-coach train to run at a speed of 100 km per hour touching 26 stations would be on the higher side similar to that of Hyderabad fare structure.

The rumours were that the private players were also seeking an assurance from the Railways that they would not be running a similar superior service on their local tracks.