Ropeways - Alternative Mobility Solution in Urban India

Ropeways have the potential to become sophisticated and advanced mode of transportation in India.

Aditya Chamaria, MD, Damodar Ropeways and Infra Limited (DRIL)
Aditya Chamaria, MD, Damodar Ropeways and Infra Limited (DRIL)

India received its first mode of modern transportation in 1853 when the first railway line was laid from Bombay to Thane to boost industrial activities and ensure easy accessibility to heavy raw materials. In the following years, constructing steam-driven railways, narrow-gauge trains, and material ropeways etc was restricted to improving the infrastructure in the region and creating a passage for movement of raw materials.

The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) was formulated in 1942 to increase the efficiency of mobility and transport in the country, and thereby facilitate infra developments across the country. Entrusted with such a mammoth responsibility, this apex body has come a long way since its 79 years of establishment, during which it has delivered prolific highways, expressways and elevated corridors. Now, as we move towards adopting environment-friendly, New Age transportation systems, the recent announcement to bring ropeways under the ambit of MoRTH will encourage the practice and establishment of innovative mobility solutions in India.

History of Ropeways
The Ropeway Industry started in the early 1960s with the installation of eight material ropeways in Eastern Coalfield and Bharat Cooking Coal to bring sand for filling underground mines. Damodar Ropeways Infra Limited (DRIL) constructed its first ropeway in Balco, Amarkantak. It was 16.8 km long. In the mid-1970s, passenger ropeways began operating in India. These were sophisticated, defect- and trouble-free, and safer, because the manufacturers gave complete attention to their safety parameters as human lives were involved.

The establishment of passenger ropeways became a milestone in the infrastructure and construction industry of India, and in no time it began expanding into monocables, bi-cable jigback ropeways, pulsating monocable ropeways, detachable monocables and bic-able ropeways, to name a few. The implementation and execution of these technologies were entirely dependent on the length, capacity and terrain. The capacity of these multiple ropeways varied from 500 PPH in hilly terrains and 280 PPH in mountainous areas, as per their structure and functions.

From difficult terrains to urban cities
Hill stations and difficult terrains became ideal locations for erecting ropeways as the cities were dominated by motor transportation. However, as the population density grew and the number of vehicles rose exponentially in the metros, the need for eco-friendly options started to gain prominence. The government is now looking for solutions that improve the infrastructure, are cost-friendly, take less time to become fully functional, and boost the stature of a city.

Though commuting by ropeways and cable cars is not a prevalent practise in Indian metropolitans, it is a successful public transport system in Western countries where it also boosts tourism. Also, when compared to metro rails, ropeways have the advantage of less infrastructural cost.

With over 30 years of experience, and its highly qualified engineers and technicians, DRIL has proven its mettle time and again in implementing ropeway projects in some of the most difficult locations of India, namely, the Ropeway at Science City, Kolkata (for recreational purpose), the Ropeway at Maihar, Satna, MP, at Naina Deviji, H.P., and in Gangtok, Sikkim, Namchi, Vaishnodeviji, Tawang, Trikut, and many more. The company has recently installed a passenger ropeway of 2 km at the Brahmaputra River, which runs from South Guwahati to North Guwahati.

Safety is paramount
DRIL has an accident-free record across 20+ ropeway projects for over 40 years. As one of the oldest ropeway players in India, the company has been ensuring safety of riders in cable cars with the help of a device called Anemometer - an instrument that measures wind speed, and which is especially helpful when wind velocity changes during an ongoing journey.

In all the ropeway projects of DRIL, the Anemometer is installed strategically at one or two places where the velocity of wind is high. This device is connected with the Control Panel with a setting of wind speed of 45 km/hour. In case the wind speed goes beyond this, the ropeway system automatically stops.

In case of sudden gusts of cross winds, the situation can get critical. The ropeways then have to be operated at a very slow speed of about 1.00 metre/sec to bring all the passengers safely to the Terminal Station. Safety is also paramount for day to day operations and on the efficiency of the engineers and technicians.

Make in India
Ropeways - Alternative Mobility Solution in Urban India
In view of such successfully erected ropeways and cable car structures (as evidenced in DRIL’s numerous projects), the Government must introduce this environment-friendly transportation on a large scale, as it will greatly reduce congestion on roads, give last mile connectivity, and generate employment opportunities for Indian technicians and engineers.

All associated stakeholders can benefit from the Government’s initiative of ‘Made in India’, as it will give a chance to the Indian players to show their calibre, R&D, and innovativeness for introducing more advanced solutions with the support of the Government.

There will be a price reduction of 20-50% in the tenders for urban ropeway projects given to Indian companies rather than to foreign firms. Another significant advantage if the ropeway projects are constructed and managed by leading Indian ropeway companies are auxiliary in nature as the benefits will also accrue to the manufacturers and fabricators of raw materials used in establishing ropeway systems.

Ropeway advantages
India’s north-eastern states have adopted ropeways more than any other region of the country. Some of the cities that successfully run ropeways are Digha, Guwahati Tawang, Gangtok, Namchi and Kolkata. In Gangtok, the Deorali Bazar Ropeway built in 2003 helps the locals and tourists traverse between two parts of the city by easily hopping onto a ropeway.

If implemented in densely populated cities like Noida, Ghaziabad, Gurugram, etc, ropeways can become a mark of excellence in the transportation and mobility system, boosting tourism and giving a renewed recognition to the regions. The projects can also escalate a new pool of job opportunities, adding to the states’ economy. Ropeways and cable cars as modes of urban transportation will herald an environmentally conscious practice among every socio-economic group.

Challenges
The GST charges on ropeways are 18%, higher than that on the aviation mode, which is at 12%. It is time that ropeways should be treated at par with Railways where the GST is 5% with input tax credit at a minimum because they can cater to all sections of society and are eco-friendly in nature.

Apart from this, the volume of regulations, licenses, permits, and the chain of bureaucracy needs to be checked for a ropeway project to get quickly functional. The ease of doing business needs to increase in this industry. All such support will be welcomed wholeheartedly by the industry.

In conclusion, ropeways have the potential to become a sophisticated and advanced mode of transportation in India. It is a prudent step of the Government to include it under the ambit of the Highway Ministry as it will widen the scope of infrastructural developments in the country. It will also create a level playing field for Indian companies vis a vis their foreign counterparts - and even help our domestic players to reach a global scale.
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