Tensing Carlos Rodrigues

An airport too far – 2

In Politically wrong on April 11, 2013 at 3:57 am

Let me now turn to the demolition of the second restrictive premise : that an airport is merely a place where planes land. An airport need not be merely a place where planes land. All international airports that have made big today are more than mere airports – they are integrated transport hubs which people prefer to use. That requires out of the box thinking; and that is what I want to show is necessary in case of an airport in Goa.  I am basing my suggestions particularly on my experience of the new Kuala Lumpur Airport.

mopaThe idea of an integrated transport hub suggests itself once we look at the map of the area around Mopa. NH 66 (old NH 17) runs at 1.66 km from the airport location; and the Konkan Railway line runs at 3.06 km. When the airport comes up it is likely to be skirted by the NH (though at different elevations) and will have the KR line within less than 2km from its periphery. Does that suggest to you a multimodal transport hub ? I know there are some ground level difficulties there; mainly because of the topography and the distance (about 2 km) between the KR line and the NH.

Move your sight a little lower on the map and you have the two lines – the NH and the KR – converging at the Pernem Railway Station – just about 6 km from the airport; considering the spread of the airport, the distance may be actually about 4 km. Here is where the out of the box thinking comes in. And this is what the new KL International Airport (KLIA) has demonstrated : the airport where the planes land and take off can be far from the Passenger Terminal. At KLIA , which is 60 km away from KL city, the major flights land and take off from what is known as the Satellite Terminal A, while the passengers check in and check out at Main Terminal or Terminal 1. It is here that the passengers complete their immigration and other tasks like buying local currency or SIM card or duty-free shopping. A dedicated passenger train called the Aerotrain takes the passengers from the Satellite Terminal to the Main Terminal.  The 3-car 250-person capacity driverless trains complete the 2 km journey in less than two minutes. If the Mopa Airport is so designed that the ‘Satellite Terminal’ is located at Mopa plateau and the ‘Main Terminal’ is located on the plain at the convergence of NH and the KR lines, a similar train should be able to cover the 4 km distance in less than 5 minutes. A smaller capacity train with a lower frequency may be what we will need to start with.

aeroAn integrated multimodal transport hub could be developed at the Pernem Railway Station where passengers can switch from plane to train or bus and vice versa, from train to bus and vice versa, all under one roof in absolute comfort. The complex would also provide for booking of tickets, sanitary utilities, relaxation while waiting, food and refreshments, booking of hotels and shopping. It is needless to say that the hub is not just a utility; it is a business proposition that will provide employment and income to locals and revenue to the Goa government. That is what it has to be eventually : a hub for growth of the entire region. Integrated hubs like this can provide tremendous boost to local produce as they attract large congregations of customers; it becomes a virtuous cycle : activity  attracts crowds, and crowds attract activity, and the growth effect trickles down over a wide region. And the right type of growth : growth without the ill effects of crass urbanization, rapacious industrialization and unjust concentration of wealth.

kliaEven looking from the narrow point of view of the viability of the airport, no major airport can be viable if it cannot derive more than half of its income from non-aeronautical activities; I suppose the ratio for a viable business model is something like 20:80 between aeronautical and non-aeronautical activities. Or else the non travelling public has to bear the tax burden; or the airport has to simply price itself out of the competition.

 Crucial to the viability of the integrated transport hub is the connectivity. And that is the locational advantage of Mopa : the KR Station, the NH 66 and the airport will be in close proximity, providing connectivity within the region as well as with the rest of the world. But this advantage will work for the viability of the hub and the airport if and only if the KR line and the NH are used optimally. Passengers landing at Mopa need to be shuttled to their destinations in comfort and in the shortest possible time. One excellent option is to use the major KR stations as the hubs for disembarkation of air travellers and run fast trains connecting these stations. This is again a superb idea that has been tried out by KLIA. A high speed non-stop train KLIA Express connects the airport to another marvelous transport hub KL Sentral in the heart of Kuala Lumpur – in just 28 minutes; another train KLIA Transit makes two stops in between; what is the most important, the trains start from within the Main Terminal of the airport. Other railway lines – metro, suburban, intercity and transnational (going to Bangkok and Singapore) – either originate at or pass through KL Sentral; as a result the air passengers have unsurpassed connectivity with comfort, speed and economy. (For more details see https://olvaddo.wordpress.com.)

krSimilar trains could start from the Pernem Integrated Transport Hub or the trains passing through Pernem KR Station could be utilised for this purpose, depending on the traffic volumes and track availability. They would have to then connect to the major stations on the KR route between Ratnagiri and Bhatkal; some trains could connect to only few stations, others could connect to more. If we are to get back to the narrow context of tourist flow to Goa, as an illustration, Thivim would cater to the Calangute-Baga belt, Madgaon would cater to the Mobor-Bogmalo belt, and so on. This would also provide impetus to the up gradation of KR infrastructure, and make KR the dream lifeline of Konkan, that it was supposed to be.

Integration is very critical for the success of this model. Or else, we will have a situation similar to that in Chennai. Chennai International Airport (CIA) is one of the few in India probably which can be accessed by a train. The other one is Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGI); I am told the Metro connection from New Delhi to IGI is of global standards. CIA has the rail connectivity, but the switch is not at all smooth. Chennai city is served by the Metro; the metropolitan area is served by local trains. So if you are somewhere in the city – say Triplicane, Royapettah or Mylapore – and you have to fly, you need to take a Metro train to Chennai Fort and then catch a local train back to Tirusulam – the station close to the airport. The subway at Tirusulam station opens out into the airport area; but the subway stinks and is usually inundated; and after that you need to walk about 400 metres through dusty rubble to enter the Terminal. Hopefully, once the Metro line gets extended to the airport, the switch should be smoother. Integrating the airport into the local transport network goes a long way in making an airport passenger friendly.

The beauty of Pernem Integrated Transport Hub is that it offers a parallel mode for dispersion : the NH 66. Fast and comfortable coaches could carry the air passengers to their destinations in the hinterland. The two modes, therefore, would complement each other, offering flexibility and wider reach; NH 66 would provide access to those areas lying away from the KR line.

The question is, why not follow the same model at Dabolim ? Dabolim has the added advantage of access to the South Western rail line. Yes, Dabolim has access to SW line; but, as said before, it is a weak link. Well that could be strengthened. So I will not discard that point altogether. But Dabolim is too far from the KR line, which is more vital to service the hinterland of the airport. (Actually that is not really true : the KR line passes very close to the airport, but some half a kilometer below !) Dabolim is also far from the NH 66; that however is not a big problem, as NH 66A (the so called Four Lane Highway), which passes by the airport, can be a strong link to NH 66. But most important handicap is the unavailability of space to develop an Integrated Multimodal Transport Hub in the neighbourhood of Dabolim. Some 25 years back it would have been possible; that is before Verna was developed as an industrial hub. Verna Plateau would have been an excellent site for an Integrated Multimodal Transport Hub.

To conclude, the choice today is not between Mopa and Dabolim. The only real challenge that I perceive for Mopa is Sindhudurga. Because, all that I have proposed for Mopa will also work for Sindhudurga. If Sindhudurga materialises in a big way, Mopa will have to bow out; and even Dabolim.  If we do not want that to happen, we will have to act fast  and act decisively on a massive scale to emerge the winner between the two. 

For the full story log on to : epaperoheraldo.in and check the March 10, 2013 edition.

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