One side effect of India’s rapid development over the past decade is the exponential growth of traditional urban centers like Mumbai or Delhi and the transformation of towns into cities.

A look at India’s latest census figures shows that in the past 10 years, the urban population has grown by more than 31 percent, with cities and towns adding more than 91 million people. The pace of urbanization, coupled with surging automobile sales to middle class city dwellers, has resulted in congested metropolitan centers. State and city agencies eager to clear traffic have started an unprecedented number of urban rail lines.

Delhi metro passengers

Bangalore, India’s technology hub, is a good example. Over the past decade, the city added 3 million residents, and two years ago, it launched an above-ground rail system. Currently, the system has 6.7 kilometers of track and could cover as many as 114 kilometers when finished.

Delhi’s transit system came online in 2002. Since then, operating company Delhi Metro Rail has significantly expanded its 193-kilometer urban rail network, including opening a six-stop “Airport Express” in 2011 that links New Delhi to its international airport.

Across India, as many as eight cities are either actively building subway lines or considering doing so, says Credit Suisse analyst Amish Shah. After road construction and power generation, the development of urban rail systems represents one of the country’s largest infrastructure investments, worth as much as $17 billion over five years if all projects make it past the drawing board.

Construction on many of India’s new urban rail networks began when the country’s GDP was growing at a double-digit clip. But in recent years, the country’s economy has slowed significantly, hampered by rising inflation and a record trade imbalance. Despite these challenges, Shah expects urban rail networks to continue expanding. In fact, he believes that while investment in roads and power plant construction may decline, rail investment should remain strong.

 India’s Urban Rail Networks

City Network Length Status
Kolkata 25-Kilometer Operating (1984)
Delhi 193-Kilometer Operating (2002)
Bangalore 7.5-Kilometer /Planned size: 114-Kilometer Operating (2011)
Mumbai Planned Size: 147-Kilometer Under Construction; (Anticipated Launch: 2013)
Ahmedabad Planned Size: 76-Kilometer Advance Development
Hyderabad Planned Size: 71-Kilometer Under Construction; (Anticipated Launch: 2017)
Jaipur Planned Size: 32-Kilometer Under Construction; (Anticipated Launch: 2013)
Kochi Planned Size: 25-Kilometer In Development
Lucknow Planned Size: 40-Kilometer In Development
Pune Planned Size: 32-Kilometer In Development
Sources:;; HMR; Jaipur Metro 

“The largest share of the infrastructure pie is driven by road and power projects, but both of these segments are expected to see decline,” he explains. “Investments supporting the construction of railway networks, including metros, monorails, or even arterial railways, should continue to grow.”

Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, provides an example of rail’s resiliency. A public-private partnership among Reliance Infrastructure as well as France’s Veolia Transport and a regional transportation agency, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority, is building a three-line rapid transit system. The inaugural line of the subway, initially set to go live in 2009, is now slated to open later this year.

Other metro systems currently under development include the Metrolink Express in Ahmedabad, the economic capital of Gujarat. By 2021, predictive models indicate that the Metrolink Express could transport up to 2 million passengers a day on its 76-kilometer network. Hyderabad, a city in southern India, is developing a 71-kilometer system that, like the Mumbai network, is being spearheaded by a public-private partnership that includes Indian industrial conglomerate Larsen & Toubro. Passenger service along part of the network is expected to begin later next year.

Jaipur, Kochi, Lucknow and Pune are also either constructing or drafting projects to build out transit systems in those cities. The rapid pace of activity could cause construction delays if the few companies able to participate in the public-private partnerships driving the subway boom become overstretched.

Still, while the construction of India’s urban rail lines may go through hiccups in the coming years, it seems unlikely that anything could completely derail their development. The country’s growing urban population is on the move, and it will take continued development of urban rail projects to keep it that way.

Photo courtesy of Paul Prescott — iStock Photos


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