Understanding Rail and Metro Planning

Sanjeev Kumar Lohia on railway stations' development and metro rail planning in India
by Juzer Kheraluwala
28 March 2017


Sanjeev Kumar Lohia (IRS) is the CEO of the Indian Railways Stations Development Corporation (IRSDC) and has been presently entrusted with the work of transformation of railway stations across the country. Mr. Lohia has more than 27 years of experience in the field of road and rail based transportation systems in India.

Prior to this assignment at IRSDC, he was on deputation to the Ministry of Urban Development for eight years. He was involved in the transformation of the urban transportation sector of the country. Among many of his achievements, he has been credited for drafting the National Urban Transportation Policy and the National Metro Rail Policy. Mr. Lohia has been actively associated with the CoE-UT and CEPT University since 2006.

Watch the lecture here.



Development of Railway Stations

As part of the lecture series on Public Transport planning organized by the Center of Excellence in Urban Transport, the first lecture focusses on Indian Railways Stations Redevelopment which is an initiative of the Ministry of Railways. He explained how the Indian Railways was planning a major overhaul of railway stations across the country. He illustrated the concept and vision of this huge feat, and how stations across the country would be more than just a place for transportation and travel.

Mr. Lohia started the presentation by quoting the vision of the Honourable Prime Minister on railway station redevelopment.

“Railway Facilities are the same as they were 100 years back. Privatize and modernize the stations. Stations should be better than Airports. We can easily have trains running below and commercial properties above.”

He provided a brief overview of the IRSDC plan and methodology for station redevelopment. Railway stations are classified into categories based on their daily revenue collection and out of the 400 stations within A and A1 category, 12 stations were handed over to IRSDC for redevelopment. The implementation model is on Public private partnership basis (PPP) which is a self-financing mechanism. The entire money for redevelopment is organized by the private developer, and in return the developer is offered a concession period of 45 years to recover the costs through commercial  development  and advertisements.  IRSDC  envisaged  that  a  major  portion of

railway’s future revenue would be in the form of advertisements through a Railway Display Network (RDN). This system is designed to provide train related information along with advertisements as fillers. This is estimated to earn roughly Rs. 10,000 crore per annum for the railways.

“My Job is literally to make money out of thin air because I am not allowed to sell the (Railway) land, yet transform the stations to be at par with Airports. This is a very tough job and has not been tried in the entire world.”

Mr. Lohia then asks the question that “What exactly does IRSDC have in mind when they talk about station redevelopment?” He says that the main guiding principle is that the station must stand as an iconic structure in the city. Further he explains how most railway stations in India divide cities into two parts, and redeveloped stations will help bridge this divide. These stations would also act as a hub for multi-modal transport integration and considering the high decadal growth of urbanization in India, the stations would be planned for a development period of 40 years. He says that railway stations must not just be looked upon as a place for only travel and transportation, but as a place for exchange of ideas and promotion of lifestyle and culture. To sum it all he says that “this is the world’s largest Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Project”.

He then moved on towards the SWOT analysis of the IRSDC’s projects, and explained that the major strength was the strategic

location of stations within the city centre. He justified this argument by giving the case of Jammu station which was developed in the 1970s almost 10 km from the city center, and how the city gradually expanded towards the station making itself the city center and one of the poshest areas of the city today.

He then clarified that there are no major threats apart from a few minor ones like the volatility in the real estate valuations. He listed out the terms for real estate development: an important one being that the private developer cannot mortgage the land allotted to him, but can only mortgage the built-up area. He also explained that this is not like any other real estate project and that commissioning of commercial operations will not be permitted until the railway station is commissioned for public use. IRSDC has a very clear purpose of ensuring that no residential development is permitted within the premises of the stations, with exceptions given to provision of hostels and service apartments. He concluded his analysis saying that there were huge opportunities in this sector as it is still a growing system.



Habibganj station, Bhopal

This was the first station to be awarded under PPP redevelopment. He explained how the initial consensus in the market was very sceptical about the IRSDC’s approach for progressing ahead with this project. And on 1st March 2017, IRSDC silenced its critics after the station was successfully handed over to a private developer for redevelopment.  This station will be commercially developed with a Built-up area of 1, 00,000 sq.m. A major problem faced during development was differences in commercial development norms between urban local body (ULB) act and the railway development act.

The issue was sorted out after consultation with the Attorney General, who suggested that FSI shall be considered only for the land surrounding the station, and this FSI would be applicable over the entire railway land considered for commercial development. This judgement went a long way in solving most IRSDC’s problems in other the redevelopment projects.

Surat railway station

He explained that Surat was a unique model as three levels of government (Centre, State and ULB) came together for the first time in India to form a joint venture. He described this station to be a “truly seamless multi-modal hub with vertical integration across various modes of transport ranging from Railways, BRTS, GSRTC buses and Taxi services”. IRSDC received the SKOCH Platinum Award for this project in the transport category for 2016.

The first section of the lecture concluded by announcing an international design competition where students and academic institutions were invited to submit their innovative designs for IRSDC’s station redevelopment projects.  The winner would receive a monetary award and also get the opportunity to work with the consultants and developers involved in the redevelopment project.



3D render of new Surat railway station, as seen in Lohia’s presentation


Metro Rail Systems Planning, Design and Operations

The Next Section of the lecture was a technical talk on metro railway system currently present in Indian cities. The metro railway was just one part of a larger network of Mass Rapid Transit Systems (MRTS) which also consists of Trams, Monorail, Regional Rapid Transit System (RRTS) and Light Rail transit (LRT) systems. Based on their Peak Hour Per Direction Traffic (PHPDT), metro railways are broadly classified into Light, Medium and Heavy metro system. He provided the example of Delhi Metro, which carries more than 50,000 PHPDT during its peak hours.

The focus shifted on to why the differentiation between a metro and tram was important. According to the Indian Constitution, there was no separate definition for metro railway. The Constitution defines various other modes of transportation such as Railways, Tramways, Waterways etc. States initially considered Metro to be a modified tram, as tramways came under purview of the state Government, but the metro fell within the category of Railways as interpreted by the Government of India therefore part of the central government. A Metro railway system has a dedicated Right of Way and its movement is governed by a standard signalling system.

Mr. Lohia then explained the challenges faced during the 12th five year plan. Cities and States were baffled over the complicated selection procedure for an appropriate mode of transportation. To tide over this issue, the central government laid down a few guidelines based on population and average trip length of the city. These guidelines have been set-forth in two different Acts.

  • The Metro Railway (Construction of works) Act (1978) and
  • The Metro Railway (Operations and Maintenance) Act (2002).

He then explained the complex process of planning Metro railway projects; that these projects are more often social sector projects whose economic rate of return outweighed financial viability. The Central Government decided to take up the responsibility of funding these projects. He stressed on the need for comprehensive mobility planning to assess the requirements of a metro railway system along with its integration with other transportation modes. He demonstrated the seven levels of multimodal integration which are required for promoting public transport in our cities. They consist of policy interventions, Institutional framework, Network planning, Infrastructure requirement, Fare policy, Operational integration with other modes and information available to public for various public transport modes.

“Every public transport user is a pedestrian first”


A detailed technical design of all the metro railway components ranging from alignment and rolling stock to communication and signalling followed. He explained the criteria for an elevated alignment versus an underground alignment and their respective per km construction and operation costs, the former being almost one third.

Progressing from planning stage towards the Implementation stage, Mr Lohia described the various models of project implementation as part of the Metro Policy – the most popular model being a 50:50 joint ownership between the Central Government and the State Government. A very successful model it was implemented in nine projects across the country including the Ahmedabad- Gandhinagar Metro – MEGA.

The second implementation model was on Public Private Partnership (PPP) mode, which has faced several challenges. He took the case of Delhi Airport metro line, the first metro line in India under the PPP model.

This project was taken over by the government after the Concessionaire abandoned the project due to technical constraints. Mr Lohia stated that only 18% of metro projects across the world are under the PPP model, with most being unsuccessful due to requirement of high capital investment. He then briefly mentioned the third implementation model, fully owned by central government such as the Kolkata metro and the Jaipur Metro which is fully state owned .

The penultimate aspect of Metro rail systems is Testing and Commissioning of the Metro lines. This was a very rigorous process as there is extra emphasis on safety. It is a process which starts sometimes two years prior to the expected date of operation, as every component of the system from tracks to signalling to rolling stock is thoroughly analyzed.

He concluded the lecture by talking about the operations and maintenance (O&M) involved in a metro project. He briefly described the O&M of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, one of the most successful metro railway projects in the country. With a vast network of 190 km. of line length and serviced by 144 stations, the ridership of Delhi Metro is expected to cross 1 billion passengers per annum in FY-17. The optimization of operational planning by DMRCL has resulted in unrevized fares since 2009, and despite these low fares, has continued to make operational profits.

The session was an enlightening experience for planners, engineers and architects as it provided a great platform to understand the forward-thinking vision of the government towards public transportation, with the enormous potential which it holds.