I visited the John F. Welch Technology Center of GE in Bangalore this weekend. They were celebrating the center’s 15th anniversary with a ‘Tech Mela’. Solutions from the various business units at GE were showcased. I have admired GE as a company, and their previous legendary chairman Jack Welch (I would highly recommend reading Jack Welch’s books about his management philosophy). This visit was a good opportunity for me the get a better understanding of their work.
The center (also referred to as GE ITC: GE India Technology Center) has over 5,000 R&D professionals working across healthcare, aircraft engines, transportation, energy and other GE verticals. This is the largest multi-disciplinary R&D center of GE in the world and more than 50% of the employees here have Masters or PhD degrees. The GE ITC is involved in supporting GE globally, as well as focusing on local/regional solutions for India and the emerging market.
I got a chance to interact with the head of GE ITC, Munesh Makhija (Managing Director, GE India Technology Centre Chief Technology Officer, GE South Asia). Here is a video of our interesting discussion (https://www.facebook.com/ge.tech.india/videos/vb.480156825343034/1075515979140446/?type=2&theater). It was good to hear about the overall focus and vision for the center, as well as their day to day activities and challenges. Hiring top talent is a challenge for every company and GE ITC is no different. Today, many top engineers want to work in software (and in startups), and this is a big hiring challenge. Along with their presence in Bangalore and Hyderabad, GE ITC is also trying to tap into the advanced manufacturing talent in Pune where they have a brand new state-of-the-art multi-modal manufacturing plant (inaugurated earlier this year). I suggested to Munesh that GE should seriously consider expanding their R&D activities in Pune. Pune is the biggest center for manufacturing in India and hosts many advanced manufacturing capabilities across large and SME companies, including a large talent pool.
Healthcare is one of the biggest groups at the GE ITC and is involved in developing solutions across imaging, maternal health, critical care, surgery and other areas. Solutions for the global market, as well as India/Emerging Market are developed here. We got an overview of these solutions from Shyam Rajan, CTO, GE Healthcare India.
A new latest PET/MRI scanner was on display (IMAGE). This scanner can simultaneously carry out the PET and MRI scans of a patient. A low-cost, award winning CT scanner was also showcased, specifically targeted for the developing markets, where cost and space are big issues.
Some of the other technology areas on display included:
Transportation – Diesel Locomotives, Fleet Management, Marine Engines
Energy – Oil & Gas, Wind Power
Gas Turbine Power Generation, Electricity Distribution, Smart Grids
It is very interesting to note the diverse engineering and technology areas that GE is involved in. They are addressing the core problems in energy, transportation and healthcare. It was good visiting these various solution areas and learning more about the solutions and tech challenges involved. The kinds of problems being addressed include machine design, modeling & simulation, advanced materials, hi-tech manufacturing, data analytics, big-data, software programming, signal/image processing, structural design, electronics control systems, and many more.
I would have liked to see more of the aircraft engine technology on display. Unfortunately (I guess due to IP/competitive restrictions) couldn’t see a lot in this area.
I also got a chance to interact with Sukla Chandra General Manager, GE Global Research, Bangalore Director-Legal, Patents & Analytics Centre of Excellence. Patents are a big focus area for GE, and Sukla’s team is responsible for providing strategic IP support to GE Global Research and several other GE businesses. In addition the patents center, Sukla also co-leads the GE Women’s Network Initiatives for India. The patents legacy of GE goes all the way back to the founder, Thomas Edison (who is credited with more than 1000 patents).
As part of the Tech Mela Event, GE released an info-graphic on their work in India (good summary): http://www.slideshare.net/GE_India/ge-reiterates-its-commitment-to-design-make-in-india-52449008
The Mumbai – Pune rail corridor is one of the most important rail corridors in the country. It connects two big metros (total population over 25 million). The Mumbai-Pune rail line also continues down towards Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai. The Mumbai – Pune stretch is also a very busy and important freight corridor, given the large number of manufacturing companies in Pune. Given the rise in services and manufacturing industries in both cities, as well as the overall population and per capita incomes, the number of commuters between the two cities has grown exponentially. Unfortunately, the railways hasn’t kept pace with this over the past few decades. The Mumbai – Pune Road Expressway provides some relief…but even that is getting congested.
Mumbai – Pune was one of the first intercity rail-lines completed in India (1850s). It was also the first intercity rail-line to be fully electrified (1920s). In 1930 luxury train Deccan Queen was started, and it took just 2 hours 45 min to cover the 192 km distance! Over the years, the Deccan Queen has slowed down (thanks to the heavy suburban local traffic) and now takes around 3 hours 15 min. So basically, in 85 years we have regressed…instead of speeding up! The Deccan Queen when it started was considered to be one of the fastest trains in all of Asia. Today on one hand, many countries have speeded up their trains to 150/180/200/300 kmph and beyond…while Mumbai – Pune corridor is still stuck at 110 kmph for over 80 years.
Here’s my wish list for the Pune – Mumbai rail corridor. Note, this is an unconstrained wish-list. I am not an expert in railways and don’t have feasibility/cost data for these suggestions. Note that this list is for the existing corridor (not for a possible high-speed ‘bullet train’…that will need an entirely new corridor, to support speeds of 300 kmph and higher (similar to the true high speed trains, in operation in Europe, Japan and China.)
The main thrust of the wish-list below is: expanding capacity of the current corridor to achieve faster run-times, some route changes, and faster frequencies. Expanding (widening) the corridor is key since this stretch has heavy suburban local traffic, which slows down through long distance trains.
* 4 tracking of Lonavala – Pune – Daund (present 2 tracks)
* 4 tracking of Bhor Ghat (Lonavala – Karjat) … (present 3 tracks)
* 4 tracking of Karjat – Panvel (present 2 tracks)
* 4 tracking of Panvel – Vashi – Mankhurd – Kurla (present 2 tracks)
* Establish: Pune-Karjat-Panvel-Vashi-Mankhurd-Kurla-Mumbai has the main Pune-Mumbai route. This will cut-off 25-30 km distance. Note, this is the route that Pune-Mumbai road takes as well.
* Ideally, provide a rail link along with the proposed trans-harbor link between Uran and South Mumbai. This will save another 10-20 km for the distance between Pune and South Mumbai (CST Station).
* The present route Pune-Karjat-Kalyan-Thane-Kurla-Mumbai is longer (192 km). This also is affected by heavy suburban local train traffic from Kalyan to Mumbai (fast locals).
* Current max speed on this route is 110 km/h. Bhor Ghat max speed is 40-60 km/h (or less).
* Explore if certain stretches of the non-Ghat section can be speeded up to 150-170 km/h (semi-high speed).
* Start hourly trains between the 2 cities on the new route. 2 hour run time is feasible with the current track (max speed of 110 km/h)…This was envisaged over two decades back with the Mumbai – Pune ‘Shatabdi’ ..but never implemented due to the suburban traffic. Even with a max speed of 110 km/hr and a 45 min travel time in the Ghat section, a sub 2 hour travel time is easily possible for a 160 km distance.
* Higher frequency (hourly and 30 min at peak times) should also lead to smaller trains, resulting in faster acceleration. This can facilitate short 2 min stops in Lonavala, Panvel if required.
* Connect Panvel Station with a light rail connection to the new upcoming Navi Mumbai airport at Kharghar. This will be convenient for both Mumbai and Pune travelers.
* Run some trains from Pune to western suburbs (route them from Kurla to Andheri/Bandra ..), instead of Dadar/CST.
* Start Lonavala-Pune-Daund suburban local trains with 15 min frequency. This is critical for the Pune metro region’s public transit. The Lonavala – Pune – Daund suburban corridor should be fully exploited to support Pune’s public transit system.
* To support this heavy Pune – Mumbai traffic, significant upgrades will be required for Pune and Shivajinagar stations. Both need additional platforms. Also, given the space restrictions at Pune, Shivajinagar, will have to expand capacities of Khadki/Dapodi/Pimpri and Hadapsar/Loni stations.
* Pune and Shivajinagar Stations should be supported by underground metro stations, to ease the commute. Khadki/Dapodi should also have metro stations (on the PCMC/Hinjavdi Metro route).
Now that the Central Government has given the green signal to the Metro in Pune, there is an urgent need to get some clarifications from the authorities. Metro-Rail is a good long term option for Pune – if designed and implemented well…Also, like any long ranging and super expensive project – it needs some detailed impact assessment and discussions. Thus far though, there are way too many open questions. It is definitely not an ideal scenario when so many basic questions lie unanswered. The residents of Pune cannot be in the dark on these open questions.
Many groups and transportation/civic experts from Pune (Pedestrians First, Parisar, NSCC,…) have raised these serious questions for a long time regarding the present proposed plan for the Metro. They summarized it again recently in a letter to the PMC, with a copy to the State and Central Government Authorities. The letter has been reproduced here – please click this link (scroll down the page, after clicking the link) at the Deccan Gymkhana Parisar Samiti Website. The letter specifically highlights the questions pertaining to the first proposed corridor (Vanaz-Ramwadi), but some of the general questions are applicable for other proposed corridors as well.
I think as a first step, every Pune Resident needs to be aware of these issues. Secondly, they need to pressurize their elected officials and other authorities to get answers to these and other related questions!
Note, the time to raise the questions is NOW! Not when the construction starts and we have JCBs rolling down the roads.
Pune is adding close to 1,000 vehicles every single day. That is nearly 400,000 vehicles per year on the already cramped Pune roads. And this number is increasing every single day. At the current rate of the growth of the city, I won’t be surprised if Pune starts adding 1,500 or 2,000 vehicles per day, before 2018. These are scary numbers, from the point of view of the city traffic.
The only way for the city traffic to sustain itself in the medium term, is by encouraging more commuters to use public transit and reduce the reliance on private vehicles. Today, only 10-20% of Pune’s population relies on public transport. This needs to change. But in order the facilitate this change, the public transit system needs to improve..as soon as possible. The 2-wheeler rider has to have a credible alternative.
Planners talk about the BRTS, Metro, Mono-Rail – but these are long term measures. In the best case scenario, the first corridor of the Metro is at least 5-7 years away. What is needed urgently is an effective short/med term plan. Something that can be executed in under 12 months and put into implementation mode. Ideally, we should consider and act on both the short/med and long term plans simultaneously. One reason for the short term crisis is due to poor long term planning 10/20/30 years back. We cannot repeat that mistake.
I believe that the right short and medium term (next 5-10 years) solution for efficient public transportation in Pune is an improved regular bus transit system. We need many more routes, with higher frequencies, and well maintained buses. We need mini-buses to enable good routes to crowded areas in the city center. High frequency mini-buses are also needed because the relatively short distances that people cover can, otherwise, be done by private vehicles. The bus service needs to operate with well-designed point-to-point, circular and hub-and-spoke routes. We also need long range buses that have less stops for the longer routes (e.g. Deccan to Hinjavdi).
Pune has a circular geography (like London, Delhi … and unlike Mumbai, New York City). Hence I think high capacity mass transit corridors (like 1-2 Metro Lines or 2-3 BRTS corridors) will not help majority of the population. They are needed..yes…but not at all adequate. Given Pune’s geography, a ring road will definitely help. Circular ring-road bus routes can connect with local routes.
Note, if we really wanted to serve such a circular geography with the Metro, we may end up needing 7-8 Lines (like in London or Berlin) and we know that this is clearly infeasible in the next 15-20 years.
Also, worth noting that many of the bus transit related improvements can be done for a fraction of the cost of the Metro Line and BRTS Corridors, and can be done fairly quickly, unlike the Metro. Even BRTS has taken more than 5 years and we are far from any decent implementation.
Take the example of the Hinjavdi IT Hub. 5 years from now, we may have 300,000 people working and commuting from there. And yet, there is no Metro route even in the planning stage for that area! What Hinjavdi needs right away is a series of comfortable (AC) buses operating there, from 10-15 different locations in the city. Today, barely 10% of Hinjavdi commuters use public transit. That number needs to rise up to over 50%. Public transit buses can be so much better than the company buses, if run effectively.
I am not against the Metro/BRTS – they are are also necessary, from the point of view of the long term transportation needs of the city. Do note, the existing BRTS needs to be fixed for all its problems before implementing any expanded version (my thoughts here) Even in the long term, when we have the Metro/BRTS/etc, given the circular geography and cross connectivity requirements, an efficient bus system will continue to be a critical need.
Essentially to summarize, what I am saying is that we need two active plans and projects to address the public transit needs. And a higher priority needs to be given to the short-medium term needs…and should be addressed on an urgent basis. Remember, to the 1,000 vehicles being added every day, we don’t have the luxury of not doing anything for the short term.
As I commented today on twitter – if we don’t address the next 5-10 years issues…we will all be in the dumps! Then we might as well forget the long term planning of a ‘vibrant metropolis’.
Lastly I will add some point about traffic management. The bus service improvements have to go hand in hand with a significant improvement in our management of traffic flows, traffic law enforcement and parking zones. This is a big topic in itself and I will discuss it in a separate blog post.