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Life Sucked Out of the Delhi Metro Express

Delhi Metro’s imperiled airport connector. Photo by EMBARQ

EMBARQ India Urban Transport Associate Umang Jain contributed to this post.

On February 23, 2011, India witnessed the launch of the Delhi Airport Metro Express (DAME), a first-of-its-kind metro rail service connecting New Delhi Railway Station (Central Delhi) to Indira Gandhi International Airport. The project has been implemented using a public-private partnership (PPP) model by the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation Ltd. (DMRC).

The project was implemented with a PPP in the form of an operations and maintenance contract. DMRC, using public funds, was responsible for all the civil work on the project, and a consortium of private companies, Reliance Infrastructure Ltd. of India and Construccionesy Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles, S.A. (CAF) of Spain, was selected as the concessionaire for operation and maintenance of the facility. The consortium subsequently incorporated as the Delhi Airport Metro Express Private Ltd. (DAMEPL), a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) company with a 95 percent equity stake from Reliance Infrastructure Ltd.  and the remaining 5 percent from the Spanish firm.

Cracks Starting to Show

Barely 16 months of being in operation, in July 2012, the Delhi Airport Metro Express has run into rough weather, with cracks emerging both within the physical system and also in the relationship between the concessionaire and DMRC. The investigations by the Joint Inspection Committee (JIC) show that there are defects in civil works, such as crushing of grout material below and above the bearings; and deformation, cracks and shifting of bearings at many locations. In addition, certain cracks and twists in some of the girders have been noticed. It has also been revealed that 540 bearings need rectification and some cracked girders also need to be recast. This will translate into the service being shut down for about 8 weeks, causing inconvenience to passengers.

The Blame Game

A blame game has started between Delhi Metro and Reliance Infra over suspension of Airport Metro Express services, with both parties accusing each other for the fiasco. DMRC is accusing the concessionaire for not having conducted timely inspections despite repeated reminders and that the repair work could have been carried out without hampering the metro operations had these defects been noticed. It further goes on to state that, as per the concessionaire agreement, the concessionaire was supposed to carry out regular inspections to monitor the civil structures. There were also allegations that the concessionaire deliberately shut down the services as the project was financially unviable.

On the other hand, Reliance Infra has alleged that the DMRC accepted that the civil works were defective, and when it detected that the clips were developing cracks, it took a number of actions like imposing speed restrictions on sections wherever the number of cracked clips were large.

Conclusion

This is a glaring example of putting commuter safety at grave risk due to negligence by concerned parties. Despite pumping in huge sums of money to the tune of $1.24 billion on the system, within 16 months of operation, the system is on the brink of collapse, which has caused great inconvenience to commuters, totaling 20,000 people per day. It is also a source of embarrassment to the image of the country, as this serves as an important mode of transport for foreign tourists as well. All efforts must be made to restore the service as soon as possible and to ensure that this does not get repeated in the future.

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