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Teeting Troubles for Konkan Railway Skybus 

It's moving a little slow, and sceptics abound. On the other hand, the Konkan Railway Skybus project is moving forward steadily and the MD,  B Rajaram is optimistic about the project



Madgaon (Goa), jan 18 , PTI

 íis it a bird...Is it a plane?í - this famous line from Hollywood blockbuster ísupermaní just about sums up the Indian railwaysí dilemma about the Skybus. The ministry is yet to decide on whether the revolutionary mass-transit system should be introduced in India under the railway act or the trams act and the resulting delay is giving konkan railway officials sleepless nights.

"My biggest problem is that the railway ministry has not been able to decide whether the skybus is a train or a bus. In fact, the skybus is ready for commercial use but for policy constraints," B Rajaram, managing director of Konkan Railways told reporters here at a media preview of the Skybus.

The concept of an electric Skybus, in which the coaches are suspended from bogies travelling on elevated rail guides, is Rajaramís dream project and he even holds a patent for it in the us. He had first presented a paper on the project at the world Congress for railway research in 1989. But time is not on his side. Rajaramís immediate aim is to secure a safety certification for the skybus before January 31, his last day of work before he officially retires.

Safety concerns had already delayed the project by many months. During trial runs in September last year, an engineer riding the Skybus was killed and three others injured in a freak accident which was attributed to technical failure. The incident immediately raised apprehensions about passenger safety

"It was an unfortunate accident, but then, human beings learn from their mistakes. The way we have modified the Skybus, the original design factors are still satisfied and more safety features have been included. Itís now 99 per cent complete and its safety has been proven," Rajaram said.

"The commissioner for railway safety has inspected the Skybus and we are awaiting his report," he added.

The two-coach Skybus is expected to pack in upto 300passengers on a single trip, which during trials here, traversed a distance of 1.6 km. Depending on the number of coaches, the skybus has been designed to handle 18,000 to one lakh persons per hour.
"We have completed trial runs at speeds of 70 km/hr and itís great to get such results in the first prototype itself. With further fine-tuning, we will be able to reach 90 km/hr," Rajaram said.

But others are not so optimistic about the skybus being the best system for cities like Mumbai.

"I am not sure about the skybus being suitable as a suburban option. This technology is yet to prove itself. Itís difficult to deal with such a large number of people. Weíll look into anything which will benefit passengers but it ultimately boils down to implementation," said arunendra Kumar, divisional railway manager, Mumbai central. 

Rival mass-transit systems like the metro are also giving tough competition to the skybus. Interestingly, the Delhi metro is the brainchild of E Sreedharan who is Rajaramís mentor and predeccessor as Konkan Rrailways MD.

But Rajaram is quick to point out that the Skybus would outperform the metro in all aspects.

"The Skybus is the ultimate solution for any city. At Rs.50 crore per kilometre, it will provide the same services at one-fourth the cost of the Delhi metro. Unlike the metro, the skybus follows existing roads, thus reaching into the very heart of the city while decongesting the roads. Moreover, it can be implemented and commissioned within two years," he said.

"The Skybus is futuristic and based on knowledge-embedded devices. Hence, the running cost also comes down," he added.

According to Rajaram, the Skybus has also been designed to carry freight traffic and can therefore potentially eliminate the need for trucks.

The Konkan railway corporation has invited bids from various companies to market the Skybus project and Rajaram is confident the entire capital invested in the Skybus would be recovered within seven years.

"The bidding companies should have a minimum net worth of Rs. 150 crore to bid for the Skybus technology license from Konkan Railway. They will have to pay a one-time royalty fee of Rs. 5 crore per kilometre," Rajaram said.

"The technology will be licensed to one company in each city. Pune is strongly supporting the Skybus whereas Kochi which had earlier cleared the project backed out due to propaganda by some lobbies," he added.

According to Rajaram, each part of the Skybus was made in India by ordinary contractors.

"For example, the coaches were made in Goa. I am trying to demonstrate that all sophisticated things need not have been made abroad," Rajaram said.

The Skybus project has also generated interest overseas with several gulf countries sending feelers for similar projects in cities like Mecca and Medina, he said.

In India, Corporates like the Tatas and Essar have come forward to help the project by providing construction material free or at nominal rates to Konkan Railway for building the test track here.

"Skybus is the story of Indian industry and entrepreneurscoming together to produce a unique thing," Rajaram said.





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