Keith Barrow looks at how this city of 6.8 million people is unlocking private capital to build a 71km network in just five years.

LIKE Delhi, Hyderabad's metro project is ambitious in scope and swift in execution. Following a construction period of just five years, the first phase, comprising three lines totalling 71km with 66 stations will be completed in 2017. It is also a technical pioneer, bringing CBTC to an Indian city for the first time.

Despite the parallels, the two cities have taken radically different paths to the construction of their urban rail networks. Delhi is financed largely through public debt, Hyderabad is one of India's largest public-private partnership (PPP) projects. Mr V A Gadgil managing director of PPP concessionaire L&T Metro Rail describes Hyderabad as "the world's largest metro PPP," and at $US 3.03bn, the first phase contract is certainly impressive in its scope.

However, not everyone is so enthusiastic about PPPs. Back in 2008, the erstwhile managing director of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation Mr E Sreedharan, a man widely considered the father of modern Indian metros, complained that there was insufficient transparency in the bidding process and dismissed Hyderabad Metro as a real estate play, a sale of family silver and a political scandal in waiting.

Sreedharan's dire predictions soon became reality, and in 2009 the state government annulled the 35-year design-build-finance-operate-transfer concession with Maytas Infra in the wake of an accounting scandal involving the group's chairman Mr Ramalinga Raju.

hyderabadThis led to the retendering of the project and in September 2010 the concession was awarded to L&T Metro Rail, a special purpose vehicle 100% owned by Indian civil engineering company Larsen & Toubro. Finance for the project is drawn from four sources: equity ($US 451m); promoters' debt ($US 185m); grants from the state government ($US 269m); and loans ($US 2.12bn).

To ensure the project generates a return on the contractor's investment, the concession includes development rights for 18.5 million square metres of property around stations, together with all farebox, advertising and car parking revenues.

Once the initial setbacks had been overcome, work started quickly and today construction continues on the project 24 hours a day. The three lines are mostly elevated, and a dedicated casting plan has been set up to produce the 14,000 concrete viaduct sections required for the project.

The 71km standard-gauge network will feature ballastless track throughout and will be electrified at 25kV ac 50Hz. An operations control centre and depot are being constructed at Uppal.

At the end of last year L&T Metro Rail awarded Thales a Rs 7.4bn ($US 134m) contract to provide CBTC and integrated telecommunications and supervision systems on all three lines. Thales will supply its SelTrac CBTC technology, and trains will initially run in automatic train operation mode with minimum headways of 90 seconds, although the system will support eventual migration to unattended train operation (UTO).

Last year L&T Metro Rail awarded Hyundai Rotem a Rs 18bn contract to supply a fleet of 57 three-car trains, each formed of two powered driving cars and an unpowered intermediate vehicle. Each set will be equipped with longitudinal seating and will accommodate up to 965 passengers, 120 of them seated. The vehicles will feature lightweight stainless steel and aluminium composite bodyshells, and will be equipped with regenerative braking, which will recover up to 40% of braking energy.

Discussions were underway at the end of 2012 with prospective suppliers for the automatic fare collection system, and Thales has confirmed it is among the bidders for this contract. The whole network will be gated and passengers will be able to travel with either a contactless smartcard or a smart token, which will be available for single or return trips.

The launch of commercial operations of phase 1 will be divided into six stages. The first section to open will be the eastern extremity of Line 3 between Nagole and Mettuguda, which is due to start carrying passengers in March 2015, while Stage 2, the northern section of Line 1 between SR Nagar and Miyapur will open in August 2015. The remaining stages will open at roughly three-month intervals, which means the phase 1 network should be fully operational by December 2017. L&T Metro Rail has subcontracted operation and maintenance of the network to Keolis for a period of eight years from the opening of the first stage, with an option for a three-year extension.

Indian cities now recognise that sustainable mass transit is the only way to support the meteoric growth of the country's urban population.

State and city governments also acknowledge that in many cases, their metro ambitions will not become a reality fast enough if they are forced to rely solely on public funding. In this respect Hyderabad sets an important precedent by demonstrating not only the advantages but also the challenges of private-sector participation in Indian metro projects, and the lessons learned in Andhra Pradesh could prove extremely valuable to other cities contemplating PPPs.