Kolkata Metro still in red, but DMRC is making operating profits
This can be an eye-opener: Around 100,000 passengers are reported to be using the Kolkata Metro daily without tickets, as the ticket-checking infrastructure is in a shambles. The ticket vending machines just can’t keep pace with the increase in passengers after Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee opened a 5.8-km-long stretch of the Metro, part of the 8.6-km southern extension project that was sanctioned during her previous tenure at the helm of the railway ministry in 1999-2000.
That’s just part of the problem. After over two decades, the Metro authorities have just recently ordered new rolling stock. This means, 17 of the 18 rakes that were procured in 1984 are still servicing the Metro. There are no spare rakes in case of a breakdown or an emergency and the situation will be worse when the passenger load goes up further next year when the balance of the expansion project is completed.
The new rakes that have been ordered will take a long time to come. Says an Integral Coach Factory (ICF) executive: “We have received an order for rakes from the Kolkata Metro. Two prototypes of these rakes should be ready by February or March next year, but this is dependent on receiving certain materials from Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL) on time. Once the prototypes are ready, there will be test runs, and if we get approvals on all technical parameters, only then commercial production can begin.”
No surprise, therefore, that the 25-year-old Kolkata Metro continues to be in the red, even as the Delhi Metro remains amongst one of the five operationally profitable metro systems in the world.
In 2007-08, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) earned revenues of Rs 464 crore, with a profit before tax pegged at Rs 18.5 crore. However, DMRC hasn’t made a net profit yet.
In contrast, the Kolkata Metro was only able to rake in a total of Rs 60.9 crore in 2007-08 and Rs 64.84 in 2008-09, with an operating ratio of 1:1.95. Thereby, for every Re 1 that the Kolkata Metro earns, it spends Rs 1.95. The losses are substantial.
Sanctioned in 1972, Kolkata Metro’s 16.45-km route between Dum Dum and Tollygunj was constructed over a period of 23 years, quite unlike the Delhi Metro, which set records by constructing 65.11 km of lines in eight years.
However, being the country’s first, and a completely indigenous process, the construction of the Kolkata Metro was more of a trial-and-error affair, in contrast to the Delhi Metro, which has seen the involvement of numerous international consultants.
Not surprisingly, the primarily underground Kolkata Metro was constructed at a cost of just over Rs 100 crore per km as against the first phase of the Delhi Metro — with a 13.01-km underground corridor and a 52.10-km elevated track — that was completed at the average cost of Rs 162.63 crore per km.
The construction period of the Kolkata project was also saddled with issues such as non-availability of funds till 1977-78, shifting of underground utilities, court injunctions and irregular supply of vital materials.
The Delhi Metro, on the other hand, benefited from the implementation of newer technologies, better planning and a higher road surface area percentage in the national capital. Incidentally, DMRC Managing Director E Sreedharan cut his teeth during the construction of the Kolkata underground.
The Delhi Metro, however, has faced serious questions about safety. Within the span of a year, mishaps have claimed nine lives and resulted in injuries to 21 others, forcing it to suspend contractors. Sreedharan’s detractors have alleged that in his ambition to complete the project, he has fixed stiff construction deadlines which are difficult to meet, forcing the contractors to break basic safety rules. Sreedharan, however, has denied such charges.
The Kolkata Metro has been relatively better off in that respect. But its ridership is substantially less than what had been projected during its planning.
The Kolkata Metro was planned as part of a larger mass rapid transport system, which was to include a second line east-west route connecting Howrah and Sealdah, as well as a third line to be placed on the north-south axis, both of which were to be in place by 1991.
Though the latter project has almost completely fallen off the drawing board, work on a newly aligned east-west line has only started in February this year and is expected to be completed by 2014.
In contrast, the Delhi Metro system has a total network length of 76.65 km with 68 stations on three separate lines, with a recorded average daily ridership of 0.85 million this year.
Apart from a higher ridership, DMRC’s coffers have also been supported by the electricity subsidy that the Delhi government doles out. While the Delhi Metro system pays a subsidised Rs 3 per unit for its power, the Kolkata Metro has to do with a non-concessional industrial rate which hovers around the Rs 4 per unit mark.
For the next few months, the Kolkata Metro will not only have to contend with a shortage of rolling stock, it will also have to function with a severely impaired ticketing system that is adversely affecting its coffers.
Subsequent to the southern extension, the Metro has already witnessed an increase in daily ridership by about a lakh of passengers, which has increased its daily earnings by about Rs 2 lakh.
According to official figures available, while previously about 400,000 passengers used the system daily, after the extension this number has gone up to 500,000. On the monetary front, in August, the Metro earned about Rs 22 lakh daily as against the daily inflow of Rs 20 lakh in June this year. As of now, it appears that after 25 years of operations, the Kolkata Metro, which runs on wheels as old as the tunnels that house it, and more than inadequate rakes, is an exercise in antiquity.