The Sky Bus update
The ambitious sky bus project may finally see the light of the day with the Konkan Railway Corporation (KRCL) scouting for players to implement the unique transport project through public private partnership (PPP) mode, six years after the project suffered a major setback following a fatal accident during its trial run. KRCL recently floated a global expression of interest seeking participation from eligible private players after a series of feasibility studies to ensure that the safety norms are strictly adhered to. The sky bus metro technology is seen as a solution to the inadequacy of other means of urban mass transportation. Running as a pair of air-conditioned coaches on an elevated rail track, sky bus can accommodate 300 passengers per trip. The tender has, however, elicited a lukewarm response till now with only three agencies showing their willingness to be part of the project. The deadline for submitting the application is January first week. Companies that are eligible to bid for the project should have a minimum average networth of 200 crore in the last three years. "Three agencies had attended the pre-bid meeting held in Mumbai recently," said Bhanu Tayal, managing director of KRCL. One of these firms is BEML (formerly Bharat Earth Movers Limited), which is also responsible for manufacturing the Sky Bus coaches. Mr Tayal, declined to reveal the names of the other two firms interested in implementing the project, saying that doing so will jeopardise the bidding process. The company is yet to finalise the business model under which the project would be implemented. The options being considered by the company are licensing, revenue sharing and the sweat equity model where the holder of the intellectual property is given a share in the revenue earnings. The sky bus has been patented in the US for its unique qualities. The comprehensive studies highlighted the commercial viability of the project, as it would not just decongest city traffic but also is cheaper as compared to constructing a metro line. "It would cost about 100 crore to construct a km long Sky Bus track while the cost would be 165 crore for the same length of track for Metro operation," said A K Bhardwaj, chief electrical engineer, KRCL. Konkan Railway, which has already spent about 60 crore in the project, is exploring the possibility of forging a strategic business alliance for the project. Compared to tramways and ropeway abroad, the sky bus technology is based on the two rail system of railways. The major difference being that the coach is suspended instead of riding over rails. Besides handling passenger traffic, the sky bus can be used for handling freight and container traffic at ports and even mountain regions, much the same as Konkan Railway's roll-on-roll-off service for trucks and containers. KRCL is open to implement the sky bus system outside Goa. "It depends on who is interested. If other states express interest in getting sky bus, we will be more than happy to implement the system there," Mr Tayal said. Among major cities in India where traffic congestion is very high, Pune has strongly supported the sky bus project, while Maharashtra is the first state to approve the technology for use as public transport. The other cities that have shown interest in the sky bus project include Hyderabad, Bangalore and Kochi. One person was killed and three were injured during a trial run of sky bus in September 2004 when coaches of the sky bus hit the piers of the track during at the Madgaon railway station in Goa, forcing KRCL to stop the process of developing the system at that time.