New Delhi: The Delhi Metro Airport Express, which will suspend operations Saturday night after major construction defects were detected, is likely to re-start only in late August, much to the discomfort of commuters.
The Airport Metro, which ferries over 15,000 people daily on the 23-km network, covers the distance between the New Delhi railway station and the Indira Gandhi International Airport in 18 minutes.
"We have to stop the service for commuter safety. By the end of August, we expect the line to be functional again. We have full confidence the line will be restored after a month," Urban Development Secretary Sudhir Krishna told a press conference here.
He also said Reliance Infrastructure had reported that there were some defects in the civil structure and insisted that the operations should be suspended till the repair work goes on.
In a recent annual inspection, the Reliance Infrastructure-led consortium reportedly found 230 of the 2,100 bearings on the elevated corridors to be shaky. These are concrete structures on top of pillars on which the girders rest.
"A high-level committee comprising officials of Indian Railways, Delhi Metro and Reliance Infrastructure is already checking the nature of defects. There are problems with the bearing, which is the interface between the pillar and girder," Krishna said.
"Repairs have to be done below the girders," he said, adding the committee will submit a report within 10 days, after which rectification work will start.
"As per the agreement, an investigation will be done and we will also see how much the contractor is liable."
Sumit Banerjee, chief executive of Reliance Infra, said the decision to suspend services was purely linked with safety.
"It is no way connected with financial losses," he said, but admitted the operations were incurring losses.
"I can tell you frankly that this line is not making any profit. But we will continue to run the line and will not close it down," he said.
The daily commuters were left fuming.
"It is just 16 months since this line started and the civil structure is already having problems. This shows the laxity of officials. They are not concerned about our safety. I also have no option now but to use my car," said Gautam Datt, a regular form Dwaraka to Shivaji Stadium.
Delhi government chief secretary P.K. Tripathi said passengers could use other means of transport for connectivity, as long as the services are not restored.
Anita Jha, another commuter, felt the services should have been suspended as soon as the faults were detected.
"What if there was a mishap like at Zamradpur?" she queried. She was referring to the collapse of a girder on the Badarpur Delhi Metro line in 2009 that killed six people and injured over a dozen others.
As a public-private project, the Delhi Metro Rail Corp (DMRC) was to carry out civil works of the airport project and a consortium led by Reliance Infrastructure was to operate the line for 30 years and share the revenue.
According to some officials, Reliance Infrastructure may be able to demand some compensation from DMRC for the time the Airport Metro services are closed.
Built at a cost of Rs.5,700 crore ($1.2 billion at the exchange rate then), 70 percent of those using the line are headed to the airport.