The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Feasibility fears over Goa skybus project

Panaji (Goa), Oct. 22: The skybus being promoted in Goa is not without its sceptics though it promises to ease urban traffic congestion, offer fast and comfortable transportation, avoid land acquisition and pollution, and even run-over accidents.

Union railways minister Nitish Kumar has unveiled a prototype of the skybus, whose coaches, unlike a monorail, travel below a girder.

The mode of transport is being recommended by the Konkan Railway Corporation, launched 14 years ago with equity raised from four western and southern states and the Indian Railways.

Goa is toying with the idea of a 1-2 km test project, outside its southern town of Margao.

There were suggestions earlier that the project could be launched to connect the north Goa town of Mapusa with Panaji, 12 km away, or link Panaji to the beach area of Miramar, around 5 km away.

Chief minister Manohar Parrikar has urged the Centre to try out the technology. State politicians even posed for photographers in a skybus prototype coach.

But the announcement of a Rs 350-crore Panaji-Mapusa link expected last week did not come through.

Critics doubt whether the Konkan corporation’s “indigenous technology” will work. Going by their estimates, the project works out to Rs 50 crore a km. So the 12-km Panaji-Mapusa route would cost Rs 600 crore.

This, they say, would mean the corporation paying almost Rs 20 lakh as “cost of money” alone, that is towards interest, apart from operating and maintenance costs.

Questions have also been raised whether the project could be built over existing roadways as the Goan landscape is sloped.

The Konkan Railway Project itself was commissioned at a cost of Rs 3,500 crore. The 760-km railroad stretches across Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka and acts as a gateway to Kerala.

Till March 2002, however, the railway ministry had given an additional Rs 1,378 crore to the project, and added Rs 543 crore by March this year.

The ministry is expected to give the corporation another Rs 3,000 crore, interest-free, over the next seven years.

The huge actual project cost means the BOT (build-operate-transfer) plan for it has to be effectively abandoned as the project is unable to pay its debts before being merged into the Indian Railways.

As anticipated, the freight traffic expected on the Konkan railway route — India’s most ambitious rail project since Independence — has also not materialised.

The railway now runs around 70 trains a week instead of the estimated 120 trains a day. The June 2003 mishap that killed about 50 people was another setback to the project.

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