Exclusive interview with Shri V. Ajith Kumar, Managing Director, KRDCL

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Kerala Rail Development Corporation (KRDCL) or K-Rail, as it is most popularly known-is a Joint Venture Company of Government of Kerala and Indian Railways, undertaking the rail infrastructure development in the state of Kerala to complement the Indian Railways.

With KRDCL in the forefront, Kerala is looking to the future with a slew of developmental projects and Silver Line Semi High Speed Rail Corridor is one among them. This 529.45 Km rail corridor connects Thiruvananthapuram, the capital city to the northern city of Kasaragod in less than 4 hours at an estimated cost of Rs. 63,940.67 Cr. This is slated to be a project that excites the state into the fast path of sustainable development and growth and is expected to be completed by 2025. A Detailed Project Report (DPR) has been submitted to the Ministry of Railways for final sanction and it is under consideration at Railway Board.

Shri. V Ajith Kumar, Managing Director of K-Rail, is spearheading the project and is all confident that the project once completed would take Kerala on the path of development. He talks in detail about the project, major hurdles and its prospects in this exclusive interview.

Interview Insights

Rail Analysis: Please share about your journey with the Kerala Rail Development Corporation and how did you get started in this sector?

Shri V. Ajith Kumar: I, belong to 1986 Batch of IRSSE and was appointed as the first Managing Director of Kerala Rail Development Corporation Limited in December 2017. During my thirty-two years’ of stint in Indian Railways I had the opportunity to work with various railway establishments including Southern Railway, South Central Railway, Research Design and Standard Organization, RailTel Corporation of India Limited etc. and I believe the experience gained during various postings has indirectly helped the team in developing work ethos and form a basic framework for KRDCL with no compromise on quality.

Indian Railways took an initiative for setting up of Joint Venture with State Governments for focused project development, resource mobilisation, land acquisition, project implementation and monitoring of critical rail projects. Working in collaboration with State Governments through JV Agreements can bring fruitful results beyond resource limitations. Kerala Rail Development Corporation Ltd. (KRDCL) is a three and a half year old Joint Venture company registered by the Government of Kerala and Indian Railways. K-Rail plans to identify new Rail projects in Kerala, conduct feasibility studies, process for approvals and implement these projects in the minimum possible time ensuring quality.

Rail projects worth more than Rs.60,000 crores have been planned and approved by Board of Directors. KRDCL houses best personnel with a high degree of technical competence and vast experience, trying to fulfill the dreams and aspirations of the people of Kerala, of affordable fast and convenient travel.

“Our major projects are Thiruvananthapuram-Kasargod Semi High-Speed Rail (SilverLine), Thalassery-Mysore New Broad-Gauge Line and Nanjangud-Nilambur Railway Line. Apart from these recently k-Rail Has been entrusted the work of these updating the detailed estimate of Angamaly-Erumeli Sabari Railway Line.”

 


 

Rail Analysis: What is the necessity of Thiruvananthapuram– Kasaragod Semi High-Speed Rail (SilverLine) project? also brief about the salient features?

Shri V. Ajith Kumar: The population is distributed across the state of Kerala contrasted with urban conglomerations seen in typical metro cities. The development of National Highways is very slow in Kerala and our highways are not capable of bearing the influx of vehicles that increases every year. Even with four-lane National Highways, we will have to face vehicle congestion within a few years.

Thousands of people die in road accidents every year. Most of the people prefer travelling by trains in the North- South line for long distance trips. However, due to numerous Level crossings, sharp curves along the track and excessive train traffic, the maximum speed of trains in the tracks of Kerala is often limited to double digits with an average speed of 45 kmph.

Even the fastest train takes about 12 hrs to cover a distance of 560 kms from Thiruvananthapuram to Kasaragod. Even, with these restrictions, some of the railway sections have capacity utilization of more than 115% highlighting the limitations in supply for demand aspirations of 3.5 Cr Keralites.

In order to meet the growing demand of Rail passenger traffic, the Government of Kerala has taken up initiative to provide 3rd and 4th Railway line to augment the existing line. The Thiruvananthapuram–Kasaragod Semi High- Speed Rail Project, tentatively called ‘SilverLine’ is introduced as a long term solution to address these issues. SilverLine is the safest mode of public transport and the most affordable solution for the transportation problems of Kerala.

Since connectivity has become an important issue, the project is a real necessity for fast growing Kerala, which will help passengers to travel from the South to North of Kerala within four hours with the train operating at a speed of 200 Kmph.

“SilverLine will adopt latest world class technology in Rail system like ETCS Level-2 Signaling & Train Control system (with design speed of 250 Kmph), LTE communication system ,AFC gate ticketing systems, Modern world class railway stations, Fully Air-conditioned Rolling Stock with modern passenger amenities, Power supply system utilizing renewable energy sources with the latest electric traction system, Transit oriented development and First & Last mile connectivity with system employing e-vehicles. Each train set will have nine cars and can carry 675 passengers. 2 plus 2 seats configuration in business class and 3 plus 2 seat configuration in standard class is planned for operation.”

SilverLine is envisaged as a green project which will enable ‘mode shift’ from conventional polluting public transport system and private vehicles. Construction and design of Stations, administrative complexes and depots will be in a completely eco-friendly manner, based on the Platinum Rating Standards of the Indian Green Building Council. With the increase in the number of passengers relying on the SilverLine, carbon dioxide emissions could be reduced by about 2,87,994 tones in the first year of operation and about 5,94,636 tones By 2052. RORO operations are also planned which will take trucks off the roads and contribute to a greener India reducing air pollution and reducing the carbon footprint.

 


 

Rail Analysis: What kind of rolling stock technology KRDCL is going to adopt for this project?

Shri V. Ajith Kumar: For the Silver Line Corridor, EMU type Rolling Stock with distributed power is proposed. Each train will consist of 9 Cars. The car shall be manufactured with Aluminium body with state of art interior having seating only. Each car will be provided with two bogies of non-articulated bogie system. The vehicle is reversible with a driving cab at each end. The traction motorization is kept preferably as 66% considering the acceleration and deceleration and motor ratings. Each car of the vehicle is connected by vestibules for the easy passage of the passengers. Passenger Doors are proposed for external entry as well as in between cars. All the cars shall be air conditioned with roof mounted air conditioners.

The Rolling Stock collects power supply from OHE through pantograph. The train is controlled by LTE based ETCS Level -2 signalling system. SilverLine Rolling Stock will have various energy saving mechanisms such as regenerative braking, load controlled air conditioning system and light system. The trains will have passenger facilities such as rotating and reclining seats, sufficient leg-space, pleasant lighting system, Wi-Fi and entertainment systems.

The tenders related to Rolling stock will be floated only after the final approval of the Project

 


 

Rail Analysis: What are the opportunities the Silver Line project will create for the industry?

Shri V. Ajith Kumar: Faster & Safe Transport system in any region/country is the backbone of Industrial and Economic growth. It has been seen in the past that states like Karnataka, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu etc witnessed high industrial growth in last two decades which has been possible because of fast & safer transport connectivity within the state and with other parts of country.

  • The SilverLine, shall enable many agriculturalists, industrialists, businessmen, professionals to travel from Thiruvananthapuram and other cities faster along the corridor for their needs. Coming to office and going back on the same day is possible for industrialists and others travelling for various needs from one city in Kerala to the other.
  • Currently the transportation time from Thiruvanthapuram to Kasaragod for commercial vehicles is 10 to12 hrs which will get reduced to less than 4 hrs in SilverLine. This will boost inter-district commercial activities within/other adjoining states. During Construction of SilverLine, huge material/service demand will be generated & a pie of this demand can be catered from local industries/service providers. This will also create huge employment opportunities for peoples.

  • SilverLine could bring in much needed drastic positive vibes for the tourism sector in “God’s own country”. Tourism is Kerala’s largest and fastest growing industry in terms of revenue. Tourism earns large sum of foreign exchange without export of tangible materials/products from the state. Kerala has a landscape which is fit for a Tourism based semi high-speed rail travel, with all the greenery, back waters and hills around the corridor. Semi High Speed rail with option of VISTA DOME coaches or exclusive luxury coaches called ‘Tourist cars’ with cooking facilities, in addition to the upper-class coaches which can have extra amenities like additional bathrooms, sitting cum-dining rooms etc. can act as a magnet for attracting more tourists. Thus, a fast and safe Semi High Speed Rail service can cater to a spurt in the growth of tourism in Kerala.

 


 

Rail Analysis: How can Indian vendors & MSME sector play a major role in this prestigious project?

Shri V. Ajith Kumar: There are two stages involved in SilverLine, one is construction stage and the other is Operation Stage. Construction Stage: The construction cost of SilverLine is more than INR 60,000 Crores. More than 80% of work/supplies for this work will be carrying out by Indian Vendors/MSMEs through Civil Construction, Station Buildings & Depots, Electrification etc. Once the investment of above said value happens in the state, parallel local merchandise & business will also develop in similar lines.

“For construction of SilverLine, it is expected that the potential Indian Construction giants like L&T/ TataProjects / AFCONS/IRCON / ADANI / RITES etc can offer their technical expertise and innovative solutions. Also, railway component manufacturers can participate in supply of various components i.e. track components, Electrification components, Cables, transformers, Electrical & Mechanical equipment etc.”

During construction of SilverLine, huge demand of Cement & Steel will be generated, which can be fulfilled by various Indian Cement/Steel producers from different parts of country.

Operation Stage: Once SilverLine starts functioning, there will be a continuous requirement of materials in operation & maintenance of Rolling Stock, S&T, Track & Traction systems. We are planning two maintenance depots at Kollam & Kasaragod which will generate demand for supply of maintenance components from local as well as from other part of the country. Many services will have to be outsourced to support operation of SilverLine.

 


 

Rail Analysis: What are your plans for integrating this Semi High-Speed Silver Line with other modes of transport like Railways, Metro and Airports ?

Shri V. Ajith Kumar: The SilverLine stations are proposed to be developed as multi-modal hubs to encourage public transport and avenues to integrate multimodal transport system. We have plans for feeder services from the stations for the smooth movement of passengers. Pick up and drop off bays, stands for auto rickshaw and taxi, IPT stands, are planned at various stations. SilverLine stations with close proximity to existing railway station and bus stand complexes, are proposed to be connected.

The stations are envisaged in Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Chengannur, Kottayam, Ernakulam,Thrissur, Tirur, Kozhikode, Kannur, Kasaragod and at Kochi Airport.

At Kochi Airport Station, physical connectivity with Domestic and the International terminals is proposed along with one-point boarding and baggage counters through APMs, PRT etc. The proposed metro extension from Aluva to airport connectivity by KMRL when implemented will also be connected physically through FoBs and travellators. Additionally, the integration of Phase II of Kochi Metro with SilverLine will provide seamless last mile connectivity within Kochi city.

 


 

Rail Analysis: Can you explain the model of funding and the current status of implementation of SilverLine Project?

Shri V. Ajith Kumar: According to the DPR, the cost of setting up the SilverLine is Rs 63,940.67 crore, which is financially viable and less costly than the One lakh crore plus High-speed rail project. Out of this Rs 6085 crore is tax reimbursement by the Central and State Governments. Rs 975 crore is the value of land owned by the Railways. Apart from that, the share of Central Railways for the project, amounts to only Rs 2150 crore. The state government will bear Rs 3253 crore as their share. Rs 4252 crore will be raised through public equity participation.

It is planned to raise Rs 33,700 crore from international financial institutions. including ADB, JICA, AIIB and KFW through the Department of Economic Affairs. The Railway Board, Ministry of Finance and NITI Aayog supported the proposal to avail multilateral loan from International Financial Agencies for the Project. HUDCO has already sanctioned Rs 3,000 crore. Discussions are underway with KIIFB and the Indian Railway Finance Corporation for the remaining amount required for the land acquisition. In Kerala, where there is currently an investment-friendly environment, the Silverline project can be realized through various levels of fund raising similar to the public investment in the Kannur and Kochi airport development model.

Semi High-Speed Rail (SilverLine)

K-Rail has been actively going on with the preparatory works of the project. Feasibility Study report and the Detailed Study Report of the SilverLine project were prepared by Paris-based consultancy M/s Systra. The alignment of the SilverLine corridor was determined by conducting an aerial survey using LiDAR remote sensing method. In addition, traffic survey, environmental impact assessment study and Scientific Soil test have been completed in connection with the project.

The Ministry of Railways has granted In-principle approval for the project and K-Rail has been permitted to take up pre investment activities. Detailed Project Report (DPR) got the State Cabinet nod in June 2020. DPR and Alignment of SilverLine is currently under consideration at the Railway Board and it is expected that final approval will be granted shortly.

In a recent development, the Housing and Urban Development Corporation (HUDCO) has sanctioned a Rs 3000 crore loan for the first phase land acquisition between Kochuveli and Chengannur for Semi High-Speed Rail Project.

 


 

Rail Analysis: Acquiring land for any project would be a herculean responsibility in Kerala, how you are going to manage it?

Shri V. Ajith Kumar: Land acquisition is the primary responsibility of the State Government. Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB) has already agreed to provide a loan of Rs 2,100 crore to fund the land acquisition. HUDCO has already sanctioned a loan of Rs 3,000 crore for the first phase of land acquisition from Kochuveli to Chengannur.

Out of the total land to be acquired, around 185 hectares is railway land and 1,198 hectares is private land. Around 88- km stretch will be elevated covering paddy fields and thickly populated areas reducing the land requirement to a great extent. It is to be noted that, while the width of the National Highway is up to 45 m, the SilverLine is only 15 to 25 m wide.

Union Finance Minister Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman in her letter to the Honorable Chief Minister of Kerala Shri. Pinarayi Vijayan, asked to expedite the land acquisition process and to obtain the necessary clearances. K-Rail is moving ahead with the initial steps of the land acquisition to ensure that the SilverLine project, part of the National Rail Plan 2030, is not delayed. Land acquisition proceedings will take place only after receiving final sanction from Central Government.

Meanwhile, the institutions, including international lending agencies like JICA, ADB etc. funds projects only after 80% of the land acquisition is completed. The main problem that slows down all development activities in the state is the delay in land acquisition. In view of this situation, it was decided to fast-track the initial steps of land acquisition on the basis of the In-Principle Approval. As per the extant policy guidelines from Union Ministry of Finance, projects have got In-Principle approval can spend up to Rs. 100 crore for preliminary activities including land acquisition. Therefore, there is no abnormality in the initial steps related to land acquisition. Land owners’ grievance will be heard and resolved through public consultations prior to the acquisition.

According to the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, land acquisition, compensation, rehabilitation and resettlement will be carried out in a completely transparent and fair manner. K- Rail is committed to abide by all provisions as per extant rules and go further in addressing the concerns and offering help to all affected communities.

 


 

Rail Analysis: Is this project going to be affordable for the common man in Kerala? Will Silver Line divide Kerala into two and adversely affect the populated areas?

Shri V. Ajith Kumar: The existing railway line in Kerala have passenger trains and mail/express train at limited speeds. Here, specifically we are looking at de-congesting roads and how to bring about a modal shift by enabling common man to part their personal vehicles to travel in an efficient system of transport. We’re looking at a faster and safer mode of transport where the fare shall only be a little high because of initial investment.

There was an option for investing in a High-Speed Rail project. But for such a system, the investment was almost double and proportionately the ticket fare was around 6 per km making it unaffordable. Semi high speed rail project is affordable and financially viable and also makes available international standards of facilities.

The technology for Semi High-Speed rail is readily available and adheres to the principles of Make In India campaign. The fare level is going to be approximately Rs 2.75/km, and is very much comparable to existing third-AC fare. Once SilverLine becomes operational, there will be a shift from the existing Railway to SilverLine which will generate additional capacity in existing Indian Railway system which will facilitate more general public to use the existing affordable Railway system.

The SilverLine track, is carefully designed avoiding sharp curves and passes through relatively sparsely populated areas. Measures are being taken to prevent the demolition of houses and buildings as much as possible and to shift the houses with novel technology if necessary. The 88 km of the SilverLine path will be constructed on bridges, viaducts so as to avoid paddy fields and buildings as much as possible. According to Indian Railways policy, a protective wall has to be erected around the tracks where the train travels at a speed of more than 140 kmph for the safety of the public. ROBs/RUBs are proposed every five hundred meters across the Silverline track to facilitate crossings. The 137 km long track is traversed by overpasses, tunnels and viaducts, so there is no restriction on freedom of movement due the proposed track.

 


 

Rail Analysis: Is SilverLine relevant in the context of Indian Railways’ efforts to increase the speed of existing trains? Doesn’t Kerala need bullet trains?

Shri V. Ajith Kumar: At present only Shornur-Mangalore section in the state is served by trains speeding up to 110 kmph. Elsewhere in the state, the maximum speed is only 70 to 100 Kmph. The average train speed in the state is limited to 45 kmph. Due to the large number of stops, numerous curves and the excessive train traffic, the trains in the state runs on a limited speed in many sections.

Due to the large number of existing trains, it is not possible to attain higher speeds even after track doubling. As the railway line passes through densely populated and developed urban areas, it is also impractical to cross the innumerable curves between Thiruvananthapuram and Kasaragod. This is where the significance of the SilverLine is, which can reach speeds of up to 200 kilometers per hour, comes into play.

Silver Line to have state-of-the-art signalling system

The current limited Infrastructure and heavy cost are not conducive to high speed trains and hyper loop systems in the state. Currently, 11 stations are envisaged for the SilverLine project. Considering the short distance between the designated stations, the distance that a high-speed (bullet) train can travel at a speed of 350 km per hour is very limited. Therefore, for the average passenger traveling a distance of about 200 km, bullet trains and semi-high speed trains do not experience much difference in travel time. In addition, the construction cost of the high-speed rail corridor, which is urban-centric and has more tunnels and airways, is twice the construction cost of semi high-speed rail. The travel cost doubles proportionately, even when it only saves a few minutes. For these reasons, semi high speed rail is the best option in Kerala.


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