Sanity Check: Bangalore international airport rail link

The Karnataka state government is tripping over itself trying to expedite the High Speed Rail Link (HSRL) to the new Bengaluru International Airport (BIA), conservatively expected to cost Rs. 5,200 – Rs. 5,700 Crore by completion date, somewhere by 2012.

The HSRL project has been put on the fast track, and the Karnataka State Industrial Investment and Development Corporation Limited (KSIIDC) has already published a Request for Qualification (RFQ) document on its website. KSIIDC is expected to announce the short-list by October 21. The letter of award to the bidder is estimated for February 16, 2009. Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), is the project consultant.

The City Airport Terminal (CAT), the starting point of the HSRL is on Parade Ground next to the Chinnaswamy Stadium on M.G. Road, with stations at Hebbal and Yelahanka. The final station will be at BIA. The first three stations will be elevated, and the BIA station is has not been determined as yet.

I am confused on some aspects of the HSRL when trying to do a sanity check.

Sanity Check 1: Who is the target customer of the HSRL ?
In 2012, assuming the global economy revives in the next 12 months, oil prices reduce drastically, and BIAL’s ambition of a south India hub comes true, I can project a maximum growth to 30 million passengers. Which translates to about 500,000 passengers, up and down, per week. Assuming 60% of passengers use the HSRL, this translates to a maximum of 300,000 trips per week.

Assuming 20,000 workers at the airport, if airport workers are added, then the number of weekly trips can increase 50% to 450,000 trips.

The time-table of “airport city” where another 100,000 people are expected to work is unknown at this time. When airport city reaches peak capacity we can assume another 250,000 trips per week.

Each category of person has differing needs.

Sanity Check 2: Convenience
The Central Business District (CBD) which includes M.G. Road area is completely choked with traffic. How many travellers are willing endure the pain and hardship to come to the CAT, and then take a train.

HSRL passengers from Central, South and South East part of Bangalore can still be expected to use the CAT, since it is on the way to the airport. Those from the western, eastern, and north-western suburbs are not going to spend enormous amounts of time deviating from the shortest possible route to come to the CAT. It is unclear if there is a park and ride facility at Hebbal.

Sanity Check 3: Close integration with Namma Metro and BMTC
A lack of close integration with the Metro is another area due for a sanity check. Integration with the Metro is vital for the long term success of the HSRL as it will provide the distributed connectivity to various parts of the city. As per my understanding, the Minsk Square metro station will be connected by a 200 meter walkway to the CAT. 200 meters with luggage does not remotely qualify as integration. There is no information available on whether the Vayu Vajra service will be linked to the CAT.

Sanity Check 4: Affordability
Passengers want to get to the airport in the shortest amount of time and are willing to pay a premium, but the airport worker wants affordability. BMTC has been forced to offer monthly passes on its much vaunted Vayu Vajra service for Rs. 2,500 per month, which translates to Rs. 50 per trip (compared to a planned Rs. 200 on the HSRL), and even this most workers and businesses find expensive.

Sanity Check 5: Financial Viability
If the HSRL will not cater to airport workers, then traffic will drop to 300,000 trips per week. Even at 500,000 trips per week, and at Rs. 200 a trip, the gross revenue will be about Rs. 520 Crore per year. A profit after tax (PAT) of 10% will result in an annual profit of just about Rs. 52 Crore, ridiculously small for a 5,000+ Cr outlay.

I have tremendous regard for Mr. E. Sreedharan, especially his construction achievements on the Konkan railway and DMRC, but DMRC does not enjoy the best of reputations on financial transparency. Sunil Jain’s Rational Expectations article in today’s Business Standard is a good reality check on how DMRC manipulates or suppresses figures to project a rosy picture, when in reality, it is not.

I am the first person to stand in the Yes column when it comes to better connectivity to BIA, including the HSRL. However, at a time when Karnataka has more pressing infrastructural and social needs, a detailed sanity check is required to ensure the HSRL does not turn out to be another white elephant draining the precious public coffers.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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