The ambitious elevated rail corridor project linking Churchgate and Virar — one of the major public-private projects (PPP) of the railways — has been called off after the Maharashtra government reportedly failed to firm up a state-support agreement with the railway ministry.
This poses a major setback to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s aim to attract private and foreign players to fund rail infrastructure projects in the country. “After several extensions, the project Request for Quotation (RFQ) process was finally brought to a close on April 27, when bids were opened… With none of the private firms having participated, the project has now been dropped,” sources said.
Infrastructure giants, including Reliance infrastructure, Gammon, IL&FS, Essar, GMR, had initially shown interest in the Rs24,000-crore project, while some Indian companies had even firmed up foreign technical partners to implement the project.
“As a pre-condition of the project execution, state support agreement was required to be signed, enlisting the Maharashtra government’s commitment to bear responsibility and costs for the shifting of public utilities, and also to identify the Floor Service Index (FSI) of the identified land of 1,31,363 square meters that was proposed for the project.
The state government had expressed its inability to provide steep FSI in already congested areas especially in the island city, according to state officials.
The railways also wanted removal of some structures near the existing Western Railway (WR) track, a difficult task considering reluctance of residents in the island city to move out of their current homes.
The state government even questioned the need for an elevated corridor in view of its own plan to build an underground Metro railway corridor (Metro 3) between Colaba and Seepz.
The state informed the railways that the elevated corridor would be parallel to Metro 3, and it would not be viable to build two mass transport projects on the same route.
The state suggested that railways build an elevated corridor between Bandra and Virar. However, railways did not consider the option commercially viable.
The existing suburban WR corridor is used by 35 lakh passengers every day, of which up to 9 lakh passengers – especially first-class pass holders – were expected to shift to the Churchgate-Virar elevated corridor, according to a study conducted by the Railway India Technical and Economic Services (RITES).
However, the ridership figure for a Virar-Bandra elevated corridor reduced to 5.50 lakh passengers a day. “The estimated loss in ridership comes to 40% if the corridor ends at Bandra and that makes the project financially unviable,” said a railway official, requesting anonymity.
Conceived in 2007 during Lalu Prasad’s tenure as the railways minister, hopes of reviving the elevated corridor project had heightened following the BJP coming in to power both in the state and Centre.
The project was to have been executed on design, build, finance, operate and transfer basis, with a mix of underground (18 km), elevated (33.5 km) and at-grade tracks (8.7 km) with 27 stations and a maintenance depot.