We’ll Cross That Bridge

My commute to the factory (about twice a week) usually takes the inner ring road (going clockwise), which means that I get to see the construction of the new Delhi Metro line as it happens. Last week, I saw that the Delhi Metro was getting ready to build one of the challenging parts: the viaduct would no longer just run along the road, but skirt a cloverleaf flyover, and this is the really good bit, go over another Delhi Metro viaduct (of the Airport Express line).

Delhi Metro themselves put out a press release about how challenging this is.

On Wednesday, I was in a rush to get to the factory and inspect conveyor belts, so I didn’t stop to take photos with my phone. But I really wanted to get photos, so today I cycled down to Dhaula Kuan with a proper camera to get some.

I skipped two possible vantage points (taking the Gurgaon exit, and then again pulling my cycle on to lawn that separates the Gurgaon exit and the Northbound carriageway, and then looped back southwards. I then pulled my cycle onto a bit of foliage-free sidewalk (which unfortunately had also been used by multiple people to relieve themselves), and took shots from there. From that vantage point, you can’t really see that the new viaduct has now completely crossed the old one, so if I wake up early tomorrow, maybe I’ll go try taking photos from other possible vantage points.

For now, here are the photos.

The Ring Road Line crosses the Airport Express Line. The Ring Road Line crosses the Airport Express Line. The launcher has now got the segments of the viaduct into place, and over the next few weeks, they’ll integrate them into a single span.

And here’s a closeup of the span segments hanging from the launcher.

A closeup of the Delhi Metro Ring Road Line viaduct, right as its being built over the Airport Express viaduct. Precast viaduct segments suspended from a launcher. Over the next few days, the construction contractor will join them together into a single span.

There are two more of these further along the ring road, which aren’t quite as ready yet. Cycling there will take significantly longer, so it’ll be more of a challenge to take photos there as and when the DMRC gets ready to cross.

Notes From a Delhi Weekend

Or, too long for tweets, too short for individual posts. This is an Amul Chocolate blogpost. Or perhaps Goldilocks. Whatever.

  • To my great sadness, I fell sick on Saturday, and though my family had tickets to the athletics events at the Commonwealth Games, I wasn’t able to attend. I’m not sure when India’s hockey semifinal is, but between leaving tomorrow afternoon, and the immense difficulty in getting tickets, I think I won’t be able to attend that either. Such is life.
  • The innermost lane on all roads to Games venues have been reserved for vehicles with Commonwealth Games stickers. I am astonished for two reasons – first, that Delhi’s drivers are actually obeying this rule for the most part; and second, that there are so few vehicles with stickers. Since this is Delhi, I would have expected anybody with even a tenuous connection to anybody in government to have stickers. This is not the case. Astounding.
  • My home is near the tennis stadium, and thus my neighbourhood has born the brunt of Commonwealth Games ‘beautification’. In the past year, our sidewalks have been ripped up and relaid thrice. The last time (in the beginning of August), this involved raising the sidewalk to a height of six inches above road level. All well and good, except this was also done across everyone’s gates, making it impossible for cars to move from the roads to the driveway. The next morning, the MCD Senior Engineer accepted bribes from everyone to build small ramps to facilitate entry and exit. Well played, I say.
  • That said, the new sidewalks and road berms are very nice indeed. They are lowered to road level at zebra crossings, the berms too are interrupted to make an island at said zebra crossings. And when I walked from Safdarjung Enclave to Green Park, the new sidewalks made the walk much better than it used to be. However, it is still not perfect, because six things keep fucking up what is otherwise an excellent sidewalk:
    • power transformers
    • garbage dumps
    • cars parked on the sidewalk
    • street vendors
    • security guard boxes
    • shops enroaching on the sidewalk
  • The last two categories – shops pushing their displays or stairs onto the sidewalk and security guards’ kiosks being placed on the sidewalk instead of inside the house are sheer bad civic sense on the part of private parties. The street vendors and cars parked on sidewalk are bad luck or incompetent planning – Safdarjung Enclave and Green Park were developed in the 1960s when few households had even a scooter, and nobody could have anticipated that every house would have two cars at least. The transformers and garbage dumps on the sidewalk, though, are inexcusable enroachments by the government itself on public property.
  • There is now a FabIndia outlet in Green Park. Delhi visits have therefore become even more expensive.
  • Green Park Market is becoming positively Chennaiesque in the density of pharmacists. It has at least five, in what can’t be more than a three kilometre stretch. I suspect this may be a result of the Adyar Ananda Bhavan triggering a slow metamorphasis. If it continues, than in twenty years Green Park will no longer have Punjabis but elderly TamBrahm thathas taking morning walks in GAP shorts and white Converse sneakers. Whatay.
  • I also finally got to travel on one of the new low floor buses with the bright green paint jobs. If you can get a seat, they’re definitely more comfortable than the old rattletraps. If you can’t, there’s not much difference. The getting on and off on the low floor is a small delight though.
  • I have more to say on the subject of buses, but that is a blogpost (or possibly an oped) in itself.
  • The Hindi signage for the Green Park metro station reads ग्रीन पॉर्क and not ग्रीन पार्क. That is, Green Paurk. The signs inside the coaches are fine though. I am mystified.
  • The Airport Express Metro Line is not ready yet. Oh sigh. But more on that in a separate post.
  • The Metro coaches themselves are very nice, and the way they use LEDs in the route strip above the coach doors to show which station is coming next is very clever. They also have power points for laptop and mobile charging; though the coaches seem far too packed for anybody to use these properly.
  • Yes, the coaches are jampacked, even on the South Delhi stretch of the Yellow Line that people were afraid would be underutilised, because, hey, South Delhi snobs always take their cars. The Violet line was only jampacked upto JLN Stadium though – and that was presumably because people were going to watch the Games. But then again this was on a Sunday night – a weekday maybe more crowded.
  • There was a Wired article which said that the major attraction of public transport over driving yourself was that instead of focusing on the road, you could read, or play games on your smartphone, or tweet, or suchlike. This is true in general, but the Metro is so crowded that reading will require immense concentration and Zenergy. And the network in the underground parts of the Metro is good, but not good enough.
  • In fact, the Metro is so crowded that it leads to practically Bombayesque levels of overhearing other people. On the violet line, I ended up overhearing a girl who was terribly unclear on the concept of interchanges. This was in addition to the person who asked me at Central Secretariat station if the train we were getting into was going to… Central Secretariat. He believed that the sign saying Central Secretariat was actually denoting the train’s destination.
  • I was tempted to be snarky about people who cannot understand how the Metro works, but after reading this Slate article on signage, I am more sympathetic. It is actually an important question – how do you explain the concept of an interchange to somebody whose learning style does not mesh well with maps?
  • Also on the violet line was a small child who was surprised that the train suddenly emerged from the underground tunnel and went on to a bridge. His mother explained to him that the Metro runs both under and above ground. He pondered this, and then nodded gravely.
  • The story of 4000 condoms being distributed at the Commonwealth Games Athletes Village and then the drains getting clogged with the condoms (insert cleaning your pipes joke here) is by now known to everyone. But all these foreigners keep having sex anyway. What I am more concerned about is – are the games also helping the local teenage volunteers get any action? They seem suspiciously cheerful. And if they are, how much does the bright red and white volunteer tracksuit contribute to this happy state of affairs? It is true that bright plumage helps birds attract mates, but in that case only the male is brightly coloured while the female is dowdy. But here, the male and female volunteers both have the same shiny tracksuit. This must be investigated.

Commonwealth Games Wankery

On the NDTV website, a report about a rape in Delhi contains this line:

However, with the commonwealth games in a few months, this incident again raises the question of safety of women in the Capital.

(NDTV)

It is bad enough when the Delhi government makes statements about getting infrastructure ready and giving police soft skills training in time for the Commonwealth Games, as if decent airports, public transport, clean sidewalks and polite policemen are something that comes with an international sports event and that Delhiites don’t have a right to in the normal course of things.

It is even worse when the news media suggests that basic personal security is something which assumes importance in the context of said sports event, and that it doesn’t matter at any other time.

Some Public Transport Links

First up, the Times of India has a report on the Lajpat Nagar station of the Delhi Metro facing problems. While the station itself is being built, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi is refusing to give the Delhi Metro Railway Corporation land for entry and exit points. If this situation is not resolved, then come June 2010, the Metro trains will stop at Lajpat Nagar, but passengers will have no way to actually get into or out of the station.

In 2008 in Preview, I had written about the Bangalore airport being completed without a road to the actual city, and how passengers to Bangalore would have to take onward flights to Mangalore and then a Volvo to Bangalore from there. Now it looks like Metro passengers to Lajpat Nagar will have to go to Moolchand and take an auto from there.

Actually, metro stations that get built but where the trains that don’t stop exist/ existed in real life. Recently, there was Buangkok on the North-East line of the Singapore MRTS. The station was built, but not used for two years. Then, a chap had the bright idea of putting up cutouts of white elephants all over it. For his pains, he got hauled up by the police, shaken down and eventually let off with a stern warning. Singapore, eh?

The story doesn’t end there. The whole controversy meant that the station was finally opened to the public, and this was accompanied by a huge opening ceremony and party. Enterprising schoolgirls who were involved in social work decided to raise funds over there by selling ‘Save the White Elephant’ tshirts. They too were given a warning by the police:

On Friday, Jan 13, while preparations went into overdrive for the carnival to celebrate the opening of the $80-million station on Sunday, drama knocked on its doors yet again. This time, it was over some “Save the White Elephants” T-shirts that former Raffles Girls’ School (RGS) students were planning to sell at the carnival.

That day, the students and Punggol South organisers received a reminder from the police that they needed a fund-raising permit before they could sell the T-shirts to the public, in line with existing regulations. The 27 students were also told that they might break the law if the T-shirts were worn “en masse”.

Lawbreaking by t-shirt. Awesome.

Now, moving on to less bizarre matters, Governing magazine has a piece on proactive infrastructure planning (via). It makes the valid point that most transportation infrastructure planning is reactive, and consists of increasing capacity wherever there’s congestion. However, if you create capacity where none exists, the benefits to the places on that new route can lead to an economic boom there and change transportation patterns so that the old route gets decongested – everyone is going to the new places instead. The article uses the high-speed train line between Madrid and Sevilla as an example.

It’s an intuitively sensible concept, but the example given also made my inner skeptic sniff and ask the following questions:

  1. The Spanish economy has been having a general construction fueled boom for many years, right? So was the boom in Sevilla and Andalucia notably more than the rest of the country?
  2. What’s the boom in the region and city been? High-speed rail usually serves only commuters – and so the service industry. A manufacturing boom needs decongestion and faster speeds on cargo lines as well – did those get built or decongested too?

Also, the article doesn’t really give any pointers about which underserved route you should create your highway or rail line on. I mean, why Sevilla instead of say Granada or Valencia or Bilbao?

In fact (and this is where I come into disagreement with Atanu Dey), this is where small airports and low cost airlines score over high-speed rail – you don’t have to take expensive bets building an entire high-speed line only to find it doesn’t get utilised – just build a small airstrip and terminal, and let low cost carriers serve them. This was pretty much Captain Gopinath’s dream with Air Deccan, but unfortunately it didn’t work out for him personally. But he did use to make the point that the airstrips are already there – they just need to be served. And so the risk is entirely on the private parties who operate the routes – not on the government or taxpayers who have to build the rail lines.

Actually, making sure your new route is utilised isn’t as hit or miss as the last paragraph makes it sound. It’s been done successfully by the new ports in Gujewland – Pipavav, Mundra Adani, and Palanpur through private-public partnerships.

What has happened here is that the port operator has persuaded heavy industries to build new plants next to their ports and take advantage of dedicated terminals for iron ore or gas or finished products (don’t recall the details, sorry, and don’t have the paper this was described in on me right now). Then, the port operator, the industrial user of the port, and the Indian Railways set up a joint venture which is dedicated to linking the port to the existing railway network.

So merely building a route is not enough. You also need to ensure somehow that there are enough users for it. That is tangentially alluded to in the article when it talks about the Meteor line and the National Library in Paris, but never addressed explicitly. I know, the article probably had a word limit constraint, it only wanted to introduce the what instead of writing a thesis about the how, but I wish someone would address the how. Oh well.