Mumbai Monorail - A mass transport system or massive financial blunder?

With financial muddle delaying marquee infrastructure project, blame game on between MMRDA and manufacturers. But Mumbai asks, does the city need this botched project at all

For a city like Mumbai that is always on the move, mass public transportation is a necessity that cannot be ignored. The MMRDA came up with the idea of introducing the Monorail as a public mode of transportation but it seems to have failed miserably in its endeavour.

Also read: Fault in power supply disrupts Mumbai Monorail services

On March 15, 2015, monorail services were disrupted for more than three hours due to a fault in power supply, leaving 11 passengers stranded inside the train near Bhakti Park in Wadala. File Pic/Shadab Khan
On March 15, 2015, monorail services were disrupted for more than three hours due to a fault in power supply, leaving 11 passengers stranded inside the train near Bhakti Park in Wadala. File Pic/Shadab Khan

The Monorail project that was estimated at Rs 1,500 crore and was expected to be up and running by 2011 is in a state of shambles right now. With only an 8.8 km-stretch between Wadala and Chembur operational, nd escalated costs having reached Rs 2,460 crore, Phase-II will see an escalation of Rs 95 crore.

Monorail approaches Wadala station during a trial run. File pic
A white elephant? Monorail approaches Wadala station during a trial run. File pic

The Monorail has been running its operations at an unexplainable loss. The operational cost of the Monorail in 2014 was Rs 7 lakh per day, while it only managed to rake in Rs 2 lakh in tickets per day, leaving a R5 lakh hole in its pocket every single day. Sources say that this loss has now almost doubled.

Phase-II of the Monorail was expected to be up and running by the end of 2015, however that deadline was stretched to mid-2016 and now sources say that it is unlikely to be ready before December 2016. In the meantime, the project cost will escalate and more public money will go down the drain. Even the employees of the Monorail are an unhappy lot and have begun to seek employment elsewhere. A female train pilot is one of the first few to have quit.

So has the MMRDA goofed up by projecting the Monorail as mode of public transport? Experts and the numbers do suggest that it has made yet another blunder after its failed cycle track and skywalk projects.

Though MMRDA officials claim the ‘not so good’ financial condition of the Scomi Engineering (Malaysia) is the reason behind the delay in the opening of Wadala-Jacob Circle Monorail phase-II, transport experts flayed the very idea of introducing Monorail as public mode of transport stating that it had only a few takers. Citing examples of the unused skywalks and obsolete cycle tracks, experts criticised MMRDA for wasting public money.

Cost escalation
RITES, which was the first consultant short listed by the MMRDA to undertake the feasibility study, had then pegged the entire Monorail project at R1,500 crore. However, for reasons best known to MMRDA, RITES was replaced by another contractor — Louis Berger. Surprisingly, the project cost escalated by a whopping R960 crore following their evaluation of the project. Interestingly, MMRDA has made a budgetary provision of Rs 341.50 crore for phase-II in the upcoming 2016-17 fiscal.

An undesired outcome
Though it has been over two years since the 8.8-km-long Wadala-Chembur Monorail corridor was inaugurated in February 2014, it has failed to attract the desired number of passengers. Several commuters claimed they felt unsafe while on onboard as the Monorail passes through an isolated area. Two months after its inauguration, mid-day did a story (Mumbai Monorail is running a loss of R1.5 crore every month, April 1, 2014) highlighting the losses incurred while operating Monorail services.

Moreover, services on the Wadala-Chembur route were marred by technical glitches within 11 months of operation, raising doubts over the efficacy of services on the Jacob Circle-Wadala route once operational. Owing to technical glitches, 20 Monorail services were cancelled between 4.30 pm to 6.30 pm on December 11, 2014.

Spare parts
Ever since its inception, the Monorail phase-1 has been marred by problems pertaining to Constant Velocity Joint (Mumbai Monorail suffers from ailing joints, 30 December, 2014). Since it takes time to import the joints, engineers are currently replacing the defunct joints with the ones on the non-operational Monorail rakes.

Missed deadlines
When the actual construction work of the Monorail commenced on November 14, 2008, the entire Chembur-Wadala-Jacob Circle line was supposed to become operational by 2011.

However, only phase-I of the project was made available for public use in February 2014. MMRDA had then claimed that the phase-II would be operational by 2015-end. But the deadline was missed and the new date was set for mid-2016 upon successful completion of trial runs between January-February 2016. While the MMRDA now claims that the phase-2 will be operational by December 2016, sources claimed a further delay is possible.

Shirking responsibility
While MMRDA justified the phase-II delay by citing Scomi’s poor financial condition, a press release on company’s website states that it is setting up a $50 million Monorail manufacturing facility at Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The facility will be built on a 98,000 square metre plot, where Monorail trains, including rolling stock and bogies, will be manufactured. However, transport experts feel that it could be a deliberate attempt on the MMRDA’s part to escape criticism for the delay in completing phase-II by pinning the blame on Scomi.

Expert says
Transport expert Jitendra Gupta said, “Nowhere in the world is Monorail used as a mass mode of transport. But in our country, it was introduced and implemented by making tall claims. In my view, MMRDA should have undertaken multiple feasibility studies before investing over R2,400 crore of public money, which may have gone down the drain. MMRDA has been creating blunders with public money. Skywalks and the cycle track are the best examples. Metro project should be promoted, as it is one of the best modes of public transport. Number of firms building Monorail is negligible in comparison to those manufacturing Metro rail technology. So it is obvious that companies manufacturing outdated transport system are bound to be in a bad financial state. Technical glitches marring Monorail phase-1 (Chembur-Wadala) is enough to prove how inadequate the technology is, as it started developing issues within a year of becoming operational.”

‘It’s true’
Stating that Scomi Engineering was struggling to complete the Monorail phase-II due to failing financial health, sources in MMRDA claimed that the company is in talks with other firms for a possible merger to complete its ongoing projects, including phase-II.

A senior MMRDA officer said, “We were expecting to start the phase-II by mid-2016. However, the company informed us that they were facing financial issues and would take a while to complete the work. The company has a good reputation for providing Monorail services. We have been told that L&T, which is co-partnering Scomi, is providing financial assistance to complete the Monorail project without further delay.”

The other side
Metropolitan Commissioner UPS Madan said, “Though we were told that Scomi Engineering is experiencing a financial crisis, we are hopeful that the issue will be resolved soon as the company is looking at tie-ups with other firms to complete the project. Our aim is to finish phase-II at the earliest.”

Scomi responds
Dismissing the rumours about the company facing financial crisis, a senior Scomi official said, “If a project is delayed, it financially impacts all the stakeholders involved. Scomi is committed to complete the project. We are looking after the operations and maintenance of the phase-I and are doing well. And will continue to deliver our best in phase-II as well. Our finances are good and we are a public listed company in Malaysia. Our financial data is up for public scrutiny on our website and speaks a lot about our company’s financial health. The primary reason for cost escalation and delays was time taken for issuing clearances.”

mid-day had sent an official e-mail to Scomi on March 28, however, two reminders later, the official spokesperson refused to comment.

Damage control
In order to arrest cost escalation and prevent delays, MMRDA has appointed an arbitrator and a 
3-member committee comprising Railway officer SD Limaye, Former PWD officials Jayant Nashikkar and Anand Kulkarni to take stock of the situation and submit a detailed report.

Shattered dreams
A monorail employee, requesting anonymity, said, “We all joined the company hoping for a better future. But a year later, we were hit hard by the grim reality. Looks like the company is struggling financially. Some people quit for better opportunities, including a female pilot who is now in Germany pursuing higher education. Though the company is slowly achieving financial stability, Monorail phase-I has failed to garner the desired response.”

Original estimated cost: Rs 1500 crore

Cost escalation due to delay: Rs 95 crore

Promise 1: Project (both phases) to be completed by 2011

Promise 2: Phase-2 operational by end 2015

Promise 3: Phase-2 operational by Dec 2016

Rs 10 lakh: Loss incurred daily

Related stories on the Mumbai Monorail project

Mumbai: BMC turns blind eye to 6-km-long death trap under Wadala monorail

Arbitrator appointed to look into constant delay of Mumbai monorail project

Metro and Monorail projects affected people in Mumbai seek speedy rehab

Jacob Circle-Wadala Monorail Corridor: 4 hours, 200 workers and a 450-tonne girder

MMRDA hopeful of launching Mumbai Monorail phase II by 2016

Mumbai: Wadala- Jacob Circle monorail to get rolling by next year

BMC will repair cracks around Monorail piers, promises MMRDA

BJP leader urges court to probe Mumbai Monorail construction

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