Sri Lanka is set to break ground on the first stage of the Colombo Light Rail Transit (LRT) project, a major development designed to ease congestion and improve connectivity in the capital.
On March 14 Patali Champika Ranawaka, the minister of megapolis and western development, announced that preliminary construction work on the 15.8-km LRT link between Malabe and Fort/Pettah would begin in the second quarter of this year.
The 16-station first phase will connect some of the busiest and most congested parts of the capital, and is expected to slash travel time on the route from 1.5 hours to around 30 minutes once complete in 2024.
The first-stage link is expected to cost around $2.2bn, with JPY30bn ($270m) provided by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in the form of a soft loan. Overall, the total LRT project, which consists of seven phases and is expected to cost around $6bn, will receive JPY200.4bn ($1.8bn) from JICA, the largest-ever foreign concessionary loan for a transport infrastructure project in the country.
Under the terms of the agreement, the loan will be subject to an interest rate of 0.1% each year, while funds for consulting services will incur a rate of 0.01%. The repayment term for the loan will be 40 years, with a 12-year grace period. The agreement also stipulates the utilisation of Japanese technology in the construction of the LRT system.
See also: The Report – Sri Lanka 2019
LRT to improve efficiency, economic development
The total network will consist of 75 km of rail line once all seven phases are fully completed, with the number of passengers using the main public transit corridors in the Colombo Metropolitan Region expected to rise from 1.9m to 4.5m per day by 2035.
To this end, three more routes have already been planned, with these projects to be developed under public-private partnerships.
“Tenders will be called for the construction of three corridors – from Kadawatha to Pettah, Moratuwa to Pettah and Piliyandala to Pettah – by the end of this year,” Ranawaka said. “The preliminary studies on the three corridors, including the feasibility study and environment impact analysis, have already been completed.”
The network is expected to help relieve severe traffic congestion for upwards of 1m people who travel into the centre of Colombo every day, with the city home to 29% of the country’s population and accounting for 42% of GDP.
Given that on a national level 90% of all movement of freight and people depends on road transportation, according to the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development (MMWD), successfully easing congestion through the construction of a light rail link could provide a considerable boost to the economy by reducing commuter times and easing arterial congestion of goods and people.
Land acquisition process provides challenges
However, while construction work on the first stage is expected to begin in the second quarter, progress of the project will likely depend on the pace of acquiring the land required for the development.
Although designed as an elevated track system – reducing the amount of land needed for the project – the network will nonetheless require the requisition of property along its route.
According to the MMWD, while both the feasibility study and selection process have been finalised, only 5% of the land acquisition and resettlement stage is completed.
Improved transport vital for downstream benefits
In addition to easing congestion and reducing commuting times, easier access to the city centre associated with the LRT project is set to have a knock-on effect by boosting demand for residential and retail property in outer suburban areas.
Improved connectivity will likely spur further residential developments in these districts and in turn boost growth in the services sector to support this suburban expansion.
Furthermore, the network, along with other improvements to the city’s transport system, could open up new parts of the city to commercial and retail development.
This process already appears to be under way, with Malabe – the final stop of the LRT network – experiencing rising property prices, according to a report issued last year by real estate consultancy firm JLL. The report noted that commercial prices in the suburb are set to rise at a faster rate than residential prices.
Additionally, the report forecast a rise in the number of IT parks and business centres along the route of the new rail link, which would push up property prices and generate employment opportunities.