Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL) has an ambitious target of making the first integrated multimodal transport system in India with mobility on rail, road and water. For water, watermetro project is a Rs.747 crore with financial assistance from the German Bank, KfW consisting of boats, jetty and access infrastructure. The project has a fleet of 78 efficient, ferries plying to 38 jetties. More than 100,000 islanders are expected to benefit from the Water Metro, complete with modern watercraft.
Nineteen months ago, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan launched the Kochi Water Metro project. It was announced that project will be ready by April, 2019. Now the first Phase is planned to have 10 boats. Project suffering delays due to ‘uncertainty’ on whether to use steel or aluminium for building the ferries and the subsequent delay in tendering.
Kochi Metro is unique from any other metro’s in India. The Kochi Metro has a strong commitment towards clean energy, hence envisaging the boats as solar-electric is only natural. An alternative mode of urban mass transport is all on its way, which aims to provide the masses with a reliable, safe, economic, user-friendly and punctual mode of world-class metro rail system at affordable rates – all this coupled with an environmentally sustainable model.
For the modern inland ferries all over the world, aluminium or glass reinforced plastic (GRP) are considered as ideal material for the hull, so as to enable the vessel to attain speed with less fuel consumption.
More than half the 80-strong fleet of the Kerala State Water Transport Department (SWTD) will be replaced with faster and modern vessels by end of 2018. This is aimed at keeping pace with the hi-tech ferries that Kochi Metro was assumed to come up with. Most of the new vessels joining the fleet will be GRP. India’s first solar ferry ADITYA which is operating successfully in Vaikom – Thavanakadavu for past fifteen months and Solar cruise Boat of 100 pax capacity under construction is also made of GRP.
Kerala Government has already announced the plans to introduce more solar ferries across Kerala. Over next 5 years, the Kerala water transportation will witness the shift to clean transportation. Fifty such clean ferries will be introduced in a phased manner.
What is right & why?
Inland water transport is currently regulated by the respective state governments. This also means that there is no uniformity in standards or compliance. In most states, there aren’t enough surveyors to assess the safety of the boat right from the design / selection of material / construction / testing stages of the process, nor at the lifesaving / firefighting equipment check stages. In this scenario, building the vessel under IACS (International Association of Classification Societies) member supervision would ensure the safety standards are met.
The biggest cause of accidents and deaths in inland water is passenger overloading. Given that limiting the number of passengers to a rated capacity per boat is difficult in developing countries – especially during special occasions, like festivals – passenger boats must be designed to take overloading into account. Single-hulled boats have a very low margin of safety, even when properly designed. Catamarans have a higher margin of stability, especially when handling overcrowding on one side or severe wind, turning or other external effects, like waves. Hence it is recommended that inland passenger ferries should be catamarans.
Electric propulsion is a much more cleaner mode of propulsion with no issues of air, water pollution, noise, vibrations or smell of fuel. However when source of energy is from diesel generators apart from energy from battery and sun (solar panels), then the typical issues of diesel propulsion is still there. However these might be lower than pure diesel boats since there is significant contribution of energy from battery and solar.
What is wrong?
There are multiple materials of choice for hull – wood in earlier days, steel in recent years and currently trending towards GRP (glass reinforced plastics also knowns as FRP or fibre reinforced plastics). Aluminium is another choice of material, however an expensive proposition for inland application. Most modern ferry boats in inland waters are GRP not just in developed world but also in India, and not for no reason. GRP is light (almost half the weight) and hence smaller engine size and thereby low fuel cost, it has low maintenance since it does not rust like steel, hence its TCO (total cost of ownership) is lowest and preferable.
Kochi Metro is choosing steel for the only reason that since the boats will not be handled properly (a poor assumption on skill and intent of boat drivers) it will damaged due to rough handling during berthing against jetties (after spending a lot of money to make modern jetties in this same project). KSWTD has shown through ADITYA, India’s first solar ferry, how their team can operate a GRP boat very well for the past 15 months in the Vaikom-Thavankakdavu sector . So, why would our people not be able to do in Kochi?
The other reason they claim for going for steel for the first ten boats is to ensure that they are build in one year to ensure commencement of operation by April 2019. People in the boat building industry will be aware that it is easily possible to make ten boats in a year in GRP as well.
One strange proposal is to avoid having solar panels on the boat and instead have it on shore. This is a just because of poor understanding of energy balance and economics. The prime benefit of adding solar panels on the boat is the significant reduction in battery size it can achieve compared to a pure electric boat since it can generate energy when the boat is operational from the sun. Energy from sun is the cheapest source of energy on the boat and it must be maximised. Hence it must be solar-electric boat and not just electric boat.
Putting solar panels on shore in distributed model like in stations is not a bad idea, but a more efficient one is to put a central solar plant ashore which will have lower cost of power than gird cost, which may not be case in distributed small plants.
What needs to be done?
In summary, to ensure that Kochi Metro go ahead with modern boats that are sustainable and environmental friendly, these have to be:
- Solar-electric propelled
- Hull material is GRP
- Build under IACS class
Let’s hope for Kochi to the world’s first sustainable public water transport system.
- RINA paper titled “High fives for solar-powered ferry ops”, Ship & Boat International, 2018 January (can send on request)
- Draft RINA Paper titled “Impact of hull material on TCO of Inland ferry boats” (can send on request)