Tunnel construction in India has picked up pace in recent years with greater impetus being given by the government to key infrastructure sectors such as hydropower, railway, road, metro rail and irrigation, water supply and sewerage (IWSS) – the primary growth drivers of the tunnelling market. Several large-scale projects have recently been announced and planned for development, offering ample opportunities to contractors, material suppliers and equipment providers. Sector-wise, hydropower has dominated the tunnelling market, with the largest length of tunnels constructed in the country, and accounting for nearly 39 per cent of the total upcoming projects. This is followed by the IWSS and railway sectors with shares of 21 per cent and 18 per cent respectively. However, given the focus on metro rail development across metropolitan cities, the sector is likely to offer significant opportunities in the immediate future.
In the hydropower sector, India Infrastructure Research tracked over 1,400 tunnels, spanning a length of over 3,000 km. Of these, 38 per cent have been completed, 9 per cent are under construction, 36 per cent are in the planning stage, 1 per cent are awarded and the remaining 16 per cent are stalled. This sector has witnessed the highest number of stalled projects totalling close to 500 km of tunnel length.
However, the sector offers the maximum opportunity, with costs/investments in some key upcoming tunnelling projects ranging from Rs 200 billion to Rs 1,000 billion each. One such project is the Upper Siang hydropower project in Arunachal Pradesh which involves the construction of 30 tunnels, estimated to cost Rs 1,000 billion, in a horseshoe-shape design. Horseshoe-shaped designs are the most prominent tunnel designs across hydropower projects in India. Other key upcoming projects in the sector include tunnels in the Dibang, Sawalkote and Subhanshri Middle hydropower projects. Tunnels in these projects will also be constructed in a horseshoe shape, with widths ranging from 11 metres to 19 metres. According to industry estimates and India Infrastructure Research, these tunnel projects are expected to offer construction contractors an opportunity of over Rs 7.75 billion.
In the metro rail space, the underground network of rail projects (that involve tunnelling) currently account for about 23 per cent of the total constructed projects – 92 km of the total 399 km constructed. With regard to projects under construction, around 136 km (of the total 606 km) is being constructed underground. Of the various tunnelling technologies, tunnel boring machines (TBMs) have been the most predominantly used in the sector, though the New Austrian Tunnelling Method (NATM) has also been gaining traction more recently.
Some of the key upcoming tunnelling projects in the sector are the Delhi Metro, Phase IV project; the Varanasi Metro Rail Project; the Greater Noida-IGI Airport Metro Rail Project; and the Meerut Metro Rail Project. Together, these tunnelling projects will span a length of 88.48 km.
According to India Infrastructure Research, around 44.61 km of tunnel construction has been announced, while 138.68 km has been approved. These projects are likely to create an opportunity of about Rs 825 billion, with the Delhi Metro, Phase IV project offering the maximum opportunity, as over 37 km of the rail stretch will be underground.
In the railway sector, India Infrastructure Research analysed over 900 tunnels, of which 70.24 per cent were completed, 17.64 per cent were under construction, 11.79 per cent were in the planning stage and 0.31 per cent were in the awarded or approved stage. In terms of length, upcoming, ongoing and planned projects accounted for 23.75 per cent, 23.83 per cent, and 14.76 per cent shares respectively, while the remaining 37.64 per cent of the projects were either awarded or approved. Regarding tunnelling technologies, the drill-and-blast method and the NATM have been the most prominently used in the sector, with shares of around 35 per cent and 34 per cent respectively. Some of the key upcoming tunnelling projects in the sector are the Rishikesh-Karanprayag Railway Project; Hubli-Ankola Railway Project; Kolhapur-Rajapur Railway Project; and the Kanhangad-Kaniyur New Rail Line Project. Together, these projects will span a length of 150 km and have an estimated cost of Rs 509 billion.
Roads and highways
In the road and highway sector, India Infrastructure Research tracked projects with a total of 18 tunnels across state roads in the country. Of these, 17 tunnels (spanning a length of 32 km) were announced and one (9 km) is currently under construction. Of the announced projects, 16 are planned to be implemented on an engineering, procurement and construction basis and one on a public private partnership basis. Regarding tunnelling techniques, drill-and-blast has been the most commonly used technology in the sector.
Key upcoming tunnelling projects in the road sector include those on the Char Dham and Hemkund Sahib Pilgrim routes, the Goregaon-Mulund Link Road Project, Airoli-Kalyan Tunnel Project, and the Holi-Uttrala Tunnel Project. Together these projects span a length of over 15 km and are estimated to cost around Rs 88 billion.
In the IWSS sector, India Infrastructure Research tracked projects with a total of 58 tunnels. Of these, 54 were irrigation tunnels and four were water supply/irrigation tunnels. Status-wise, of the 58 tunnels, 36 have been completed, eight are at different stages of implementation and 14 are in the planning/ bidding stage. In terms of length, irrigation tunnels cover 751 km, while water supply/irrigation tunnels cover 46 km. With regard to tunnel shape, the D-shaped design has been the most commonly used across the sector, with a nearly 46 per cent share among the projects analysed, followed by circular and horseshoe- shape designs, with a share of 34 per cent and 16 per cent respectively. Regarding tunnelling techniques, TBM is the most commonly used technology for tunnel construction in the sector, accounting for nearly 57 per cent of the total projects analysed, followed by drill-and-blast with a 25 per cent share.
Key upcoming tunnelling projects in the sector include the Mahi-Luni Intra-State Link Project, the Upper Krishna-Bhima Intra-State Link Project, the Par-Tapi-Narmada Link Project, and the Mulshi-Bhima Intra-State Link Project. These projects span a tunnel length of 477.33 km and are expected to create large opportunities for key stakeholders in the sector.
Overall, the tunnelling market in the country has expanded significantly in recent years, with a number of projects planned for implementation. This can be attributed to the impetus being given to key infrastructure sectors leading to a greater demand for tunnel construction. However, several issues still plague the sector. Delays in land acquisition, a financial crunch and termination of contracts due to a lack of coordination between parties have been the main reasons hampering growth in the segment. For the successful implementation of upcoming projects, steps such as greater mobilisation of funds in a decentralised manner and simplification of the land acquisition process need to be taken urgently.