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Sanity Check: A Namma Metro link to Bengaluru International Airport – Bangalore Aviation

Sanity Check: A Namma Metro link to Bengaluru International Airport

About 40 days ago, I had raised the issue of a “Sanity Check” on the proposed High Speed Rail Link (HSRL) to Bengaluru International Airport.

The issues I raised were :

  • Sanity Check 1: Who is the target customer of the HSRL ?
  • Sanity Check 2: Convenience
  • Sanity Check 3: Close integration with Namma Metro and BMTC
  • Sanity Check 4: Affordability
  • Sanity Check 5: Financial Viability

In parallel, I began pondering, if there are indeed any alternate solutions.

One of the solutions I have come up with is using the Namma Metro itself.

The Metro depot at Bayapanahalli depot near the old NGEF factory, will be the first depot implemented. Expected completion date is 2010. At the same time, the Cabinet has approved, in principle, the expansion of the Metro Phase 2, which includes extensions to the IT centric hubs of Electronics City, and Whitefield.

Proposed Namma Metro route to airport

My proposal is detailed below, and I welcome comments.

The route will commence from the Bayapanahalli depot or Indiranagar station which will the interchange point for the Whitefield extension. Proceed east till the Outer Ring Road (ORR). Go north/northwest on the ORR along the median, since there is no space on the sides. At HBR 4th block, head north towards Kannur and Bagalur, passing Bangalore International School. From Bagalur, a straight trip to Bengaluru International Airport.

Proposed alignment for a Namma Metro link to Bengaluru Airport
Proposed alignment for a Namma Metro link to Bengaluru Airport

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The strength of my proposal. My own sanity check.

1. Utilises existing road or upcoming Metro infrastructure to reduce costs.

  • The route will commence from the Bayapanahalli depot or Indiranagar station which will the interchange point for the Phase 2 Whitefield extension.
  • Proceed along existing roads, so acquisition of land is minimised.
  • There is an existing BMTC depot at the Hennur Road – ORR junction which will aid in the integration of mass transport systems.
  • Opens up an alternate route along North East Bangalore, instead of duplicating existing route via Mekhri Circle, Hebbal, NH7.

2. Will be fast
While not as fast as the HSRL, the distance of 32 km, can be covered in about 40 minutes. The metro can operate up to 80kmph speed. Beyond HBR layout, with the number of stations reducing, the average speed picks up.

3. Integrates with the city
The HSRL is designed as a dedicated airport link and meant only for passengers. Without bringing non-passenger airport workers (employees, business visitors like importers, exporters, cargo agents, customs agents, etc.) on board, there is insufficient volume to justify the expense of the HSRL.

The Metro increases the catchment and will additionally bring in passengers beyond passengers, including cross town commuters, who will use the metro till HBR layout, and beyond.

The Phase 2 link from Electronics City to Yelanhanka, via city centre, Fraser town, Nagavara, Sanjivini Nagar will come though the centre of Bangalore, and can join up with the airport link at HBR Layout.

Use of the Metro will also accommodate the needs of the people at “airport-city” when it comes up.

A metro based airport line will also integrate with other surface transport mechanisms like bus and inter-city rail.

4. Decongests the city centre
BMRC has a lot of land available at Bayapanahalli, and by integrating with the existing Metro Phase 1, the airport traveler can travel on rail all the way from the fringes of the city where he/she resides or works, instead of coming to an already congested city centre in a car or a bus.

5. What about special coaches for passengers
Yes very possible. While the normal “in-city” phase 1 trains will commence with 3 coaches, the metro has a capacity of 6 coaches. 2 Coaches out of 6 can be modified with luggage racks.

6. City check-in (air) terminal (CAT)
While it is very much possible, but the question I pose ….. is it really needed ? Most passengers today travel light, not carrying more than 1 small piece of luggage in addition to a briefcase or laptop bag. International passengers, and those with multiple pieces of heavy bags, will in any case take a direct service like their own car or a cab.

In mainland Europe, the CAT system is prevalent only because there is an extensive long distance railway network. Even London does not have a CAT on its “Heathrow Express”

7. Are there proven models of my proposal
Yes. MRTs of Singapore, New Delhi, and London .

Despite having passenger numbers, the SMRT is essentially geared towards transporting airport workers, and those passengers with less baggage, for these two groups constitute about 80% of the airport traffic on a daily basis.

New Delhi is planning a dedicated airport link, in addition to integration of the Dwarka line. Delhi can afford having two links. One primarily targeting passengers, the other for the rest of airport travelers. Being the seat of government and host to the Commonwealth games 2010, brings its own largess, and Delhi has the passenger numbers, to financially justify spending Rs. 3,800 Cr. on a dedicated rail link. Bangalore does not have the numbers, nor the largess.

Delhi Metro map circa 2008
Delhi Metro map circa 2008


7. Other benefits
The line opens up a new avenue instead of duplicating existing connectivity. A successful train system is one that does not have buses running parallel to it, but rather, running to it, in a clover leaf pattern.

Currently the entire land between Hoskote, Kannur, Bagalur and Devanahalli, is lying unused. Much of it is barren and not conducive to agriculture.

By installing a Metro, it enables development of this entire segment, bounded on the west by the Metro, and on the east by NH207 which will ultimately become part of the Peripheral Ring Road/Satellite Town Ring Road (which ever comes up first).

Companies are looking to Bangalore, but cannot afford the high cost of real estate now prevalent in most of the industrial areas of Bangalore, enabling decongestion of the city centre, and moving Bangalore towards its stated goal of creating self-sufficient satellite towns.

8. Finances
I estimate my proposal for an over-ground airport link, will be in region of Rs. 3,500 – 4,000 Cr, significantly less than the HSRL.

Higher ridership with ensure better financial returns than HSRL, since the line will cater to more than just passengers, or even airport travelers, which in turn will keep the ticket prices affordable.

9. Weakness
My plan has one major assumption that presumes the cooperation and willingness of BMRC to do this link. As dynamic a person Mr. Sivasailam is, BMRC, might say that Metro should follow development, rather than precede it. The persuasion I offer is that the start and end points are already developed and so is quite a bit of the route. For areas near Kannur and Bagalur, the stations can be provisioned and constructed later when development commences.

Ultimately it is the chicken and egg story. Which will come first ? In that remote area, development will not come without some form of transportation.

The other weakness is Utopian ideals. I am assuming that the politicians will not “interfere”. In case of the HSRL, being a separate entity, “interference” is far easier, than in an existing project like Namma Metro.

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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No comments

  1. Many thanks for the opportunity to comment on your suggestions.
    I believe there is no either/or solution to this transport solution. Probably, on the face of it, both are required. A high speed airport express will serve one particular market very well. A metro will serve the other very well. Our research shows that the former will provide the best value for the city of Bangalore overall both in terms of operating profits and overall economic benefits for the city. We would not advocate exclusion of the latter option, just that the former is likely to be the better of the two.

    In-town check in closed prematurely at Heathrow. Look to Hong Kong for a very successful system that MTR would not do without.

    The metro systems you quote operating succefully in London and Singapore are ok, but no substitute for an express. Singapore has a change of trains enforced. This is no good for the airport express traveller who will mostly take the taxi as a better alternative. In London the Piccadilly Line is ok, frequent but slow in reaching central London. 6 million people per year choose to pay the premium for speed and use the Heathrow Express to gain that all important time advantage

    Richard Brown

  2. Dear Devesh,

    Very good analysis. I am also for integrating Namma Metro with BIAL rather than have an exclusive high cost HSRL.

    In the areas where there is less development now, a metro would really boost and pave way for rapid development

    As you have pointed out, the considerable number of workers and other non passengers would find the metro more viable than HSRL.

    The worry is the pace with which BMRC is executing the phase1. It has been painfully slow. BMRC should pull its socks up and ensure that project is on a fast track.

    The metro integration with BIAL should seriously be taken up with BIAL, BMRC, GOK and industry forums such as BCIC should facilitate this.


  3. I agree with you Kiran. For the BIAL link, Metro needs to occupy mind space first. Right now, it is Vayu Vajra.

    Timing is one of the key reasons, why I proposed Bayapanahalli as the start point. It will be ready first, and will allow for the BIAL link to be constructed in parallel with the rest of Phase 1, and be ready by 2011, early 2012.

    If we have to wait, then the proposed Phase 2, Electronics City to Yelahanka link can be used and an extension can be made, but that will require Bangalore to wait till 2015.

  4. Richard, under normal circumstances, I agree with you, it would not be an either/or situation.

    At this point in time, the passenger traffic in Bangalore is still very small. I had raised this point in my earlier article “Sanity Check: HSRL” 10 million passengers a year (arriving and departing), translates to about 190,000 passengers a week, and assuming peak days of 6, just about 30,000 trips a day. Even the ultra-efficient Hong Airport Express had only 23% market share. This pattern will translate to only about 7,500 trips per day, and at the proposed fare of Rs. 200 ($4) I cannot figure out the economics.

    Heathrow has 89% international flights which promotes a day long demand. Bangalore has 85% domestic flights, compared to Heathrow’s 11%. In Bangalore the peak demand is only 6am-9am, and 5pm – 7pm. 55% of total passengers travel during these 5 hours.

    For the rest of the time, the HSRL will be severely under-utilised, and it will be too expensive for non-passenger airport workers. Incidentally, companies are looking to figures of $40 per month per airport worker, as the outer limit cost for transport. The existing BMTC Volvo Vayu Vajra bus service is proving it. Most of the time they are empty. BMTC is incurring significant losses, and this is being borne by the citizens of Bangalore.
    There are close to 6,000 people who work at the airport. A metro will be the preferred option and will increase the overall market share for rail.

    India does not have spare money at this stage. A metro link overcomes the major weakness of a dedicated passenger oriented airport link — high fare and low local cover.

    If you also observe, I have deliberately chosen an alternate route to the proposed HSRL. My proposal will promote development in North-North East Bangalore, and still leave the original alignment of the HSRL intact, to be implemented at a later date, when financial viability is better.

    In case of Hong Kong, the airport link is an integral part of the airport, and the station is integrated in to the city and its MRT. The HSRL as proposed in Bangalore, is not integrated, at either end.

    It will be interesting to see the finances of Hong Kong’s Airport Express. Any idea on the financial performance ? Is the line paying for itself, or getting cross-subsidised ? By the rest of MTR or by airport income.

    In Bangalore, the airport is private. I would not like the citizens of Bangalore to carry the risk, while the airport earns the reward. If any operator is willing to come in and run the HSRL at zero cost to the city, I am for it.

  5. Devesh,

    I think your points are valid, 10m ppa only just crosses our threshold of justification of an airport express; expected growth of the airport is the next question.
    Notwithstanding that, I believe that it is possible run a HSRL at zero cost to the city; airport expresses are probably the only example where profits can be made in rail.

    There are many benefactors from an airport express. The airport, airlines, the rail operator, land owners within 1-2km of the nodes, the city (economically), airport workers (provided the pricing structure is right) and anyone else who can make use of the service. They should contribute in some way or other.

    Off peak pricing is one of the 15 golden rules we advocate; this looks ideal for the Balgalore example.

    In Hong Kong the operator gets rights to property development above the stations, skyscrapers as you can imagine, (the model is also being used in Sao Paulo with adjacent land)so despite the low market share the operating company makes a healthy profit.

    The case may be marginal and needs analysis and benchmarking. Interesting.

  6. Dear Devesh

    Your proposed idea of HSRL is very fancy which would benefit only a fraction of the population using the metro(commenting on your point NO 3).

    Bangalore is no big city when it comes to airway usage/traffic compared to other european/asian/american cities.

    Investing 3000-4000 cr just for those few is worthless.You may complain of losing precious time,but I opine that the idea would not serve the purpose.
    Utilize existing/feasible alternatives rather.
    With the airport in mysore taking shape at a quick pace and the subsequent cutting of time between Mysore – Bangalore once the BMIC road is completed your proposed idea will look naive.People rather will consider Mysore as an alternative for business or will fly down to mysore and take BMIC to reach bangalore within 1.5 hours.
    Usage of existing facilities would suffice rather than wasting 3000-4000 cr on route just connecting two points carrying absolutely no volume.It would be rather costly to run it the whole day and night just for the fraction.

    Infrastructre planning/engineering always incorporates social engineering.

    With regards
    Akash F Patil