MUMBAI MATTERS Mumbai

Mumbai Monorail: a trip to nowhere

The Monorail operates at a peak frequency of 22 minutes, but it drops to around 40 minutes routinely owing to breakdowns. The lack of spare parts often leads to a series of disruptions. MMRDA is now looking to develop a pool of vendors to supply critical spare parts to keep the Monorail running.

The Monorail operates at a peak frequency of 22 minutes, but it drops to around 40 minutes routinely owing to breakdowns. The lack of spare parts often leads to a series of disruptions. MMRDA is now looking to develop a pool of vendors to supply critical spare parts to keep the Monorail running.   | Photo Credit: Prashant Nakawe

Experts say the service should serve as a warning of how big infrastructure projects can become costly mistakes owing to poor planning and execution

There is perhaps no better example of an urban planning disaster than the Mumbai Monorail. Built at a cost of nearly ₹3,000 crore, the 19.54-km corridor serves only around 10,000 people daily on an average and is plagued by irregular service and poor frequency.

While there have been several issues in the past, a recent decision by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) has provided some hope that the cursed system could be partially salvaged. A new vendor development policy adopted by MMRDA is likely to solve a critical issue affecting the Monorail’s operations — non-availability of spare parts.

Earlier this month, operations were suspended owing to non-availability of a key spare part, current collector shoes (CCS), which collects electricity from the third rail on the guideway and provides power to the trains. MMRDA has now appointed a Pune-based company to supply CCS. The lack of spare parts led to a series of disruptions in July, resulting in ridership dropping to 2.13 lakh from 5.55 lakh in March. MMRDA is now looking to develop a pool of vendors to supply critical spare parts linked to the braking system and traction motors.

Not a smooth ride

The Monorail was built and operated by a consortium of Larsen & Toubro and the Malaysia-based company Scomi BHD Engg (LTSE). In December 2018, MMRDA terminated the consortium’s contract citing contractual failures. Since then, the going has not been smooth with the MMRDA inheriting the problem of insufficient spare parts. MMRDA officials said when they took over operations, only three of the 10 trains were operational. A senior official said, “There were no spare parts and consumables as LTSE never procured them. It had used parts from functional trains to keep the service running in Phase 1.”

In 2016, a Monorail rake broke down due to a technical snag.

In 2016, a Monorail rake broke down due to a technical snag.   | Photo Credit: PTI

 

MMRDA officials said LTSE was unable to pay vendors owing to its deteriorating financial condition and the vendors also stopped supplying spare parts on credit. Using parts from functional trains resulted in four of them being grounded and two being reduced to shells. One rake was damaged in a fire that broke out in November 2017. So far, MMRDA has repaired two trains. At present, five trains are in service, four are in operation and one is on standby.

However, the non-availability of spare parts continues to hamper operations. MMRDA officials said they have lost the trust of vendors owing to the poor track record of the previous contractors. An MMRDA official said, “Very few companies have invested in Monorail technology, be it to build trains or components. There are only a handful of vendors, but we have just one corridor and the quantity of spare parts required is not large. The companies start manufacturing spare parts only after the orders are placed.” The official, however, said since the trains now run across the entire corridor, wear and tear is higher, necessitating more spare parts.

Poor frequency

A common complaint of commuters who use the service daily is the poor frequency of trains. Naresh Patil, who lives in Chembur and works in Lower Parel, said the Monorail, when it is in operation, is the best mode of transport. He said, “There have been times I have waited for over 40 minutes for a train to arrive. There is no guarantee about when the next train will come. This is the Monorail’s biggest problem.” MMRDA officials said the Monorail operates at a peak frequency of 22 minutes. However, frequency drops to around 40 minutes routinely owing to breakdowns.

Transport expert Ashok Datar says the Monorail project was a mistake and nothing can be done to undo it.

Transport expert Ashok Datar says the Monorail project was a mistake and nothing can be done to undo it.  

 

Transport expert Ashok Datar said the Monorail project was a mistake and nothing can be done to undo it. He said, “Due to its history of technical faults, people have lost faith in the system. The only way to increase ridership is to raise the frequency to around five minutes and provide reliable service.” However, MMRDA officials said they aim to run services at a frequency of 15 minutes with two more trains being repaired and likely to be pressed into service by September-end.

D.L.N. Murthy, chief operating officer, Mumbai Monorail, said, “MMRDA has floated a tender for procurement of 10 new trains. The tenders will be finalised and the order will be placed before September 15. The trains will be delivered in 21 months. By 2021, the Monorail services will be running with 17 trains with a frequency of six minutes.”

‘A white elephant’

Mr. Datar said the Monorail was a “white elephant” and it should serve as a warning of how infrastructure projects of a big scale can become costly mistakes owing to poor planning and execution. He said, “When one sees the manner in which some Metros or the coastal road are being built, we can see more Monorail-type mistakes in the making for which only people will suffer.”

The move to develop indigenous capabilities for the Monorail may well be the light at the end of the tunnel. It provides a ray of hope for what has been the city’s costliest mistake till date.

In 2016, a part of a track collapsed near Lower Parel station.

In 2016, a part of a track collapsed near Lower Parel station.   | Photo Credit: Vijay Bate

 

ROAD MAP

Phase 1:

Chembur to Wadala

Started in 2014

Length: 8.8 km

Phase 2:

Wadala to Jacob Circle

Started in 2019

Length: 10.6 km

Frequency:

Minimum 22 minutes

Total rakes: 10

Functional rakes: 5

Timeline

2008: Construction of Monorail begins with MMRDA awarding contract to consortium of L&T and the Malaysia-based company, LTSE.

2011: Deadline fixed for completion of Monorail project. However, contractor fails to meet deadline.

2014: Phase 1 between Chembur and Wadala becomes operational.

November 2017: Phase 1 services suspended after a coach catches fire.

September 2018: Phase 1 services restart after 10 months. MMRDA floats tenders for new contractor thrice.

December: MMRDA issues termination notice to LTSE and takes over Monorail operations. MMRDA is unable to start operations of Phase 2 due to lack of functional rakes.

February 2019: First batch of spare parts under MMRDA arrives.

March: Phase 2 is inaugurated and services along the entire corridor begin with four operational rakes.

July: Ridership hits lowest point in the year owing to poor frequency and lack of spare parts leading to disruptions.

August 3: Monorail services suspended for two days due to lack of a critical spare part: current collector shoes (CCS).

August 5: Services resume after CCS is sourced from a Pune-based company. MMRDA announces new vendor development programme.

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 10:32:46 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/mumbai-monorail-a-trip-to-nowhere/article29273282.ece

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