Mumbai: The third phase of the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP-III) appears to be slowly rolling ahead as the Mumbai Railway Vikas Corporation (MRVC) plans to soon begin negotiations with the World Bank on the terms and conditions for the loan.
MUTP-III received a token allocation of Rs.5 crore in this year’s railway budget. NITI Aayog, the central government’s advisory body, has given in-principle approval to the project on the condition that the railways will undertake fare reforms besides introducing cab-signaling technology on one suburban corridor.
A senior MRVC official said, “The Department of Economic Affairs under the Finance Ministry has given us the mandate to undertake negotiations. It will be atleast a year before the loan is disbursed.”
The MRVC is looking at obtaining 60-70% of the funding from the World Bank and the balance will be financed equally by the state government and the Ministry of Railways. Both, the MUTP-I and MUTP-II projects were also financed partially with loans from the World Bank.
MUTP-III includes Airoli-Kalwa rail link which aims to provide direct connectivity between Kalyan and Navi Mumbai and will enable the railways to run 40 services between Kalyan and Navi Mumbai. This project can be completed in less than a year as there are no major engineering challenges or land acquisition issues involved.
The project also includes quadrupling of the Virar-Dahanu corridor which will help segregate mail, express and suburban traffic, thus opening up the tracks to run more suburban trains.
Doubling of the Panvel-Karjat route will also be undertaken to enable more suburban services.
Apart from trespassing control project, MUTP-III will now also include cab-signaling on the Harbour line. This component of the project will cost Rs 4,082 crore. It might increase the current project cost of MUTP-III from Rs.10,000 crore to Rs.15,000 crore.
Based on the Harbour Line experience, the cab-signaling technology will then be extended to the main lines of Western Railway and Central Railway.
However, despite the spate of announcements by the Union Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu during his visit to the city last week, the ground reality remains that the next big project Mumbai Urban Transport Project III (MUTP) has remained unsanctioned till date. The railway ministry is yet to reply to Niti Aayog’s questions about the financial feasibility of the project, a question the Aayog had asked back in February 8 but the officials are stumped with the question and are yet to reply.
The Union railway minister had declared that the MUTP III project would be the next target of the ministry in Mumbai, in his budget speech in 2015. But when the Niti Aayog asked them how a system that runs into losses of up to Rs 1, 600 crore can afford MUTP III, the officials were left speechless. The initial estimates of MUTP III are an approximate Rs 10,000 crore and like its predecessors, MUTP I and II, it will be funded by the railway ministry while the other half will be a loan at an interest of seven per cent from the World Bank (WB).
It has been over two-and-a-half-months since the railways was asked to respond to that question. Commenting on the matter, a railway official said on the condition of anonymity, “The Aayog had asked us to do three things. The first is to approach the World Bank and ask it for a loan of Rs 7,000 crore since the railways has not done it yet, even though talks of MUTP III has been on for a decade. It has also asked the railways how it would work out the loan since running one 12-coach service cost the railways Rs 55 lakh per annum.”
The official said that the last condition put forth by Niti Aayog was that railways implement the Communication Based Train Control (CBTC) on either the Western or on any of the Central Railway’s lines. “It has been decided to run the CBTC on the Harbour line for experimental purposes but this decision too has not been officially put on paper,” said the official.
When asked about MUTP III, Suresh Prabhu had in his two-day visit to the city on April 21 and 22 he had said that work will happen ‘step-by-step’ and that these things ‘take time’.