IRSDC can make Delhi ring rail project viable: Sanjeev Kumar Lohia

Sanjeev Kumar Lohia, chief executive of Indian Railway Stations Development Corp. (IRSDC), talks about the challenges ahead

Sanjeev Kumar Lohia, chief executive of Indian Railway Stations Development Corp. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Sanjeev Kumar Lohia, chief executive of Indian Railway Stations Development Corp. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

New Delhi: Indian Railway Stations Development Corp. Ltd (IRSDC), a joint venture between Ircon International Ltd and Rail Land Development Authority created to oversee the modernization and upgrade of passenger amenities at 400 stations across the country, took the first step in this direction last month when it allotted the Habibganj station in Madhya Pradesh to a consortium.

IRSDC chief executive Sanjeev Kumar Lohia, in an interview, talks about the challenges ahead as well as the task of developing the country’s first multimodal transport hub in Surat. Edited excerpts:

Your approach to station redevelopment is very different from the Swiss Challenge method that Indian Railways is working on. Can you share how you are allotting projects?

What we are doing is de-risking the project and then taking it to the developers, unlike in the Swiss Challenge method. We develop a project, get all the approvals and after various consultations, allot it to a developer.

The railways, on the other hand, lets private developers do all the work for the redevelopment of stations. But the risk here is private developers have to obtain all the clearances from municipal bodies, state governments, fire department, etc.

Sanjeev Lohia, 52Lohia is an IRSE (Indian Railway Service of Engineers) recruit with more than 28 years of experience in transportation systems. He studied at Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, where he is now pursuing a PhD in urban transportation. He was also a 2014 governance fellow at King’s College, London.

At various forums where we have interacted with bidders, they are of the strong opinion that the government is best placed to take care of clearances.

Would you like to share details of the multimodal transport hub in Surat?

Under this project, land is being pooled by the central government, state government and urban local body, and the trio will also form a joint venture to develop the hub. We have already floated an expression of interest. The project cost can be split into two parts. One is mandatory cost, which involves station redevelopment—about Rs.700 crore. This also includes road widening, mobility solutions, additional water and power supply. The second component is commercial development, which would cost about Rs.2,400-2,500 crore.

We had been in discussions with the state government for a long time and once they came on board, it was decided that all three entities would pool resources. The passengers will have a world-class and seamless experience.

Is the Delhi ring rail project viable?

When this line was constructed in the 1970s, it was outside Delhi limits and hence referred to as “Delhi avoiding line”. Later it came to be known as “goods avoiding line” as it came to be used mainly for passage of goods trains. But in the last few years, the way Delhi has developed, it has become a part of the city’s heart and this line is being used at 130% of capacity.

However, almost all the goods trains that run on the line are not destined for Delhi. If these goods trains can be run on a separate bypass line, you can run trains akin to Metro on the line and the railways can earn by charging track access charges from the company that operates the ring rail.

The ring rail can run trains at a frequency of 10 minutes and also allow goods trains to pass. In peak hours, the frequency of passenger trains can be increased. The best part is that the ring rail can have six-seven interchanges with the Metro and people can use either system.

For the Metro, the government spends Rs.300-350 crore per km whereas the investment on upgradation of ring railway would be much lower, and the funds for it can be arranged partially from land monetization, partially from the Delhi government and partly from the Centre. If we are assigned this work, we can make it viable.

Will speed be an issue on the ring rail?

On the Metro, the average speed is 34 km/hr and the maximum is 80 km/hr, whereas in ring rail the maximum speed is 100-110 km/hr. So the issue of speed doesn’t arise at all. Another important thing is that in Metro, the inter-station distance is between 1 and 1.5 km, while in ring rail it is 2 to 5 km. So the trains can gather more speed.

What has been your company’s growth trajectory in the past three years?

The company was formed in 2012 and the initial three years were a great learning experience. A lot of headway was made in getting clearances, though we are still debating the models for station development. In the last six months, we made significant headway.

We awarded the first station at Habibganj (Bhopal) recently against all odds. We have been able to conceptualize the Surat station with pooling of land, which is the first of its kind in India.

For Gandhinagar station, we have been able to develop a financially viable model. We have got excellent response for Anand Vihar and Bijwasan stations. This has all happened in the last six months.