Chennai Metro Rail banks upon smart solutions to drive public transport growth

Improving efficiencies through ICT in the endeavour to position Chennai Metro Rail (CMRL) at the forefront of city’s public transport, L Narasim Prasad, Director, Systems and Operations, CMRL charts out the way forward

With only 63 percent of Chennai’s roads being two-lane, coupled with 40 percent of the city’s population commuting by personalized vehicles (including and two-wheelers and cars), public transport system needs to be highlighted. While Chennai’s bus network – having 834 routes and a fleet of 3,843 buses – carries the major chunk of commuters across the public transport system, Chennai Metro Rail (CMRL) is looking at transforming the city’s transportation habits through effective adoption of Information and Communication Technology. Sharing thoughts on the same, L Narasim Prasad, Director, Systems and Operations, CMRL, says, “People talk about cars. For instance 50 percent of the people in Goa have cars, but the true sense comes in the meaning of a developed country. A developed country is not where the poor have cars, but where the rich travel in public transport. In this endeavour, the Chennai Metro Rail is pushing ahead to get the middle class and upper middle class people also use public transport. For this, we need to be smart, otherwise we will be left behind.”

Chennai is also known as the “Detroit of India”, due the vast presence of the automobile industry. The city has a widespread rapid transit system of 19.34 kms – mostly elevated – run by the Indian Railways. However, talks are underway of its integration with CMRL. The first phase of Chennai Metro Rail will have 54.1 kms, of which, around 28 kms is presently operational.

Mobility pattern

Total number of vehicles is 4.75 million, of which two-wheelers constitute 77 percent. Prasad expresses that personal transport statistics are growing day-by-day, which can only be controlled by adopting smart technologies in CMRL.

The public transport figures have been dropping year-on-year, which is alarming, adding to the pollution and quality of life. However, CMRL aims to address this problem through its network. Prasad elaborates, “This is probably the first metro rail project in the country that’s connecting the major air, road and rail transport in the first phase itself.”

Tech role

CMRL is leveraging upon a plethora of ICT solutions to achieve its desired goal, such as inter-communications system in train between passengers and CMRL, which also allows communication between differently-abled passengers and the train operator, wherein the train is halted for a sufficient duration for alighting. Additionally, silent alarm has been installed for security reasons, in case of emergency situations.

Some of the other pivotal systems installed include passenger information displays and video surveillance and CCTV in doorways. CMRL currently uses 40 to 60 cameras inside each station. Whereas, the train control and monitoring systems perform control command functions of the train as well as monitoring. Driving assistance, driving aid, maintenance functions related to alarm, faults and events are also displayed and recorded.

Commenting on real time remote monitoring and diagnostics, Prasad states, “We are in the process of introducing this, and ours is the probably the first metro project to introduce this in India. The train will provide information about the working parameters of the train to the depot for the purpose of monitoring. Hence, in case of a failure online support can be provided. We are also implementing an asset management system for the train, which will track the change in components of the train. In phase two, we are looking at driverless trains. In fact, even today, the trains are running on automatic operations mode, which means we are close to achieving that. Real time remote energy monitoring systems help us to monitor the energy used by various systems. All these data analytics help us to become smart.”


Alongside remote monitoring and diagnostics, CMRL is banking upon Automatic Train Supervision (ATS) for the control and monitoring of traffic, scheduling and routing of trains, regulation, time and energy, forecast for passenger information displays and announcements. Whereas, Automatic Train Protection (ATP) ensures that primary safety functions are automated, and exceeding speed limits and doors are monitored.

The recent train mishaps in India have brought the track-side faults into spotlight, and to prevent these, CMRL’s interlocking systems control and monitor track-side equipment, thereby preventing uncertainties. Explaining further, Prasad says, “We are also the first to install platform screen doors (PSD) at underground stations in the first phase itself, which ensures safety of passengers and save a huge amount of HVAC. We also have mobile app based maintenance system. Mobile apps are so cheap and accessible these days that you can do anything; all of our maintenance is mobile based including tunnel ventilation, air conditioning etc.”

In a move towards adopting eco-friendly measures, CMRL’s document management system ensures that all correspondence is done electronically. It also has an e-filing system for internal operations and e-procurement.

Passenger focus

Similar to Mumbai Metro Rail, CMRL has opted for smart tokens and smart cards for ticketing. However, it is discouraging tokens and is trying to urge passengers to use smart cards more. For performance and passenger data assessment, automatic fare collection system can handle huge values of data and can monitor passenger insights of each station and points.

Going forward, Prasad adds, “We are trying to accommodate common ticketing of multiple operators through common smart card infrastructure. For instance, we will give our clearing house to the bus network. We also have our own mobile app for the public, which gives a wide range of information such as fares, route information, train timings, online smart card recharge, emergency alerts, etc.”

Airport metro in Chennai is currently the highest revenue earner among all the metro stations, which indicates that there is a demand, and CMRL is looking at leveraging upon such indicators, and the support of ICT.

The article is based on the presentation made at the Smart Infrastructure Symposium 2017, Chennai

Chennai Metro RailCMRLICTSmart Transportation
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