France's Thales bets big on India's metro, rail projects

New Delhi, April 24 (IANS) Seeing a huge business opportunity in India's public transport sector, French technology giant Thales is planning to bid for the upcoming metro projects across the country, either independently or in partnership with other firms.

The company, which set up the ticketing system for Delhi metro, is also looking to upgrade the communication and security systems of Indian Railways.

"We are open to all options. Our first preference will be to do it independently. We can do it in partnership with local players also and through joint ventures," said Eric Lenseigne, country head and managing director of Thales' India operations.

"We can also be a part of general consortium bidding for the projects," Lenseigne said in an interview with IANS.

Thales has already won contracts for providing communication based trans-control system for the third phase of the Delhi metro project and for Hyderabad metro.

It will also be providing a train protection warning system for Indian Railways.

Lenseigne said Thales will bid for signalling, ticketing and communication systems of metro and rail projects, competing with players like General Electric, Siemens, Bombardier and Alstom.

Almost Rs. 200,000 crore (two trillion rupees) investment is expected to be made in various metro projects across the country in the coming 10 years.

In February, a panel headed by Sam Pitroda, advisor to the prime minister, in a report to the government suggested investment of Rs.822,671 crore for modernisation of Indian Railways over the next five years. This includes Rs.20,000 crore for upgradation of the signalling system in existing routes and an additional Rs.20,000 crore for installing state-of-the art signalling system for bullet trains.

Lenseigne said the company would aggressively expand in the transport sector in India and was targeting to increase revenue from this segment to at least 50 percent of the total revenue.

"Our major business in India come from the defence sector. But we will be expanding rapidly in the transport segment. Our target is to get at least 50 percent of Indian revenue from the transport segment, as is the case with our global business," he said.

Thales has a significant presence in India's defence sector. Almost 90 percent of the company's $260 million business in India comes from the defence sector.

Thales, which has presence in 56 countries, earned nearly $17 billion revenue in 2011. The company has big presence globally in the defence, security, aerospace and transport segments. Aerospace and transport accounted for 40 percent of its global revenue while the rest came from the defence and security segment.

Lenseigne said the company targets to double the headcount in India in the next four-five years. Thales employs nearly 250 people in India.

He said the company will open new offices, if required. "We want to be local. We will be expanding our operation wherever we get opportunity."

Besides the national capital, it has offices in Mumbai, Kochi, Gwalior, Bangalore, Visakhapatnam, Chennai, Hyderabad and Lucknow.

With over six decades of operations in India, covering both military and civilian space, Thales also has two joint venture agreements with Rolta and Samtel. Besides, it also has a technology company in Chennai to develop software for its global customers.

(Gyanendra Kumar Keshri can be reached at gyanendra.k@ians.in)