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October 1, 1997


Birla Comm wants to ride Konkan railway's telecom line

Birla Communications, the joint venture between the Aditya Birla Group and AT&T, has approached the Konkan Railway Corporation for leasing surplus telecom capacity along a section of the 760 km-long railway route.

KRC has routed the Birla Communications request to the Railway Board. The proposal will be examined along with the broader issue relating to the participation of the Indian Railways and Power Grid Corporation India Limited in building and operating public communications networks.

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The issue is currently being examined by the Planning Commission, officials said.

Birla Communications, which has the licence to operate cellular services in Maharashtra, has requested capacity on the Ratnagiri-Kudal sector which falls in this region.

Company sources said that KRC was approached as the Department of Telecommunications does not have adequate capacity on this sector. They added that the company had to look for lessor with Optical Fibre Cable capacity since the uneven terrain made microwave communications commercially nonviable.

KRC lease rentals are likely to be at least 10-20 per cent cheaper than DoT charges. Birla Communications, however, said that they had approached the corporation only because a high-reliability network was available.

The railways have laid OFC along the 760 km track which runs through Maharashtra, Karnataka and Goa. The fibre cables have the potential to handle voice communication, data and television signals. The system will interconnect with the Indian Railways communication network at two points - Mangalore on Southern Railway and Bombay VT on Central Railway.

The network is to be also used for running a computerised system covering all aspects of train operations such as locomotive control, scheduling, ticketing, monitoring of rolling stock and asset management.

The KRC has currently installed 12 fibre pairs along the entire route, which adds up to a capacity of 2,000 channels.

Each channel can carry signals at the speed of 64 Kbps. The KRC is, however, using only around 110 channels as the rail network is not fully operational. Even when the Konkan railway goes on full steam, the KRC expects to have surplus capacity for commercial leasing.

Interestingly, DoT initially pointed out that the KRC could utilise the department's network which runs along national highways. But after assessing the techno-economic viability of the DoT proposal, KRC decided to build its own communications network along the Konkan route.

The reason behind the decision was the fact that the national highways intersected the Konkan line only at certain points. Since the distance between the DoT and Konkan lines varied between 8 km and 50 km, the cost of interconnection between the two was estimated at Rs 640 million as against Rs 540 million for building an entirely new line along the rail route.

Work on the Konkan line is almost complete, barring a 2 km-long tunnel. Officials said that the line is likely to be opened up for passenger traffic by mid-November. The revised cost of the project is estimated at Rs 27.84 billion, which includes financing costs of around Rs 7.5 billion.

- Compiled from the Indian media

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