Planning, Design and Construction: Recommendations by experts on the way forward

Recommendations by experts on the way forward

In a recently organised roundtable on Transforming Indian Railways – Role of Technology, a panel discussion was held on Rail Planning, Design and Construction. The panelists were H.D. Gujrati, director, Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Limited (DFCCIL); Arbind Kumar, director, projects, Rail India Technical and Economic Service (RITES); Ajit Pandit, additional member, Railway Board; Deepak Sabhlok, director, projects, Ircon, and Paul Wallet, regional director, India and Middle East, Trimble.

Indian Infrastructure captures the key takeaways from the discussion…

H.D. Gujrati, Director, DFCCIL

On Indian Railways (IR), while operating both passenger and freight traffic on the same corridor, passenger traffic is given priority over freight traffic. Since freight traffic is the major source of revenue and profitability for the railways and there is a need to encourage freight traffic movement via the railways, a decision was taken by the government to develop dedicated freight rail lines or corridors – DFCs. To undertake construction work related to the biggest rail infrastructure project so far, a special purpose vehicle, DFCCIL, was set up under Companies Act to plan, finance, construct, operate and maintain the corridor.

Commissioning DFCs will help in the diversion of traffic presently moving predominantly by road to environment-friendly rail transport. DFC will be a logistics game changer and will be helpful in reducing logistics costs in the country.

DFCCIL construction contracts have been awarded based on the lump sum design-build concept. This contracting methodology has been used for the first time for the construction of the railway network. Project management consultants have been engaged to supervise the work on behalf of DFCCIL. New/ Advanced technologies such as train protection warning systems, video wall, train management system, end-on train telemetry, GSM(R), 2×25 kV OHE supply are being adopted on DFCs. Modern operational and technological input is expected to reduce the operation and maintenance cost significantly.

Revenue collected from booking of traffic will be retained by IR. Instead of apportioned earning, it will pay track access charges for using the DFC network.

On the DFC, trains will operate at an average speed of 65-70 km per hour. Double-stack long haul container trains, capable of transporting 360 twenty-foot equivalent units, are planned to be operated. Trains will run according to a timetable and IR will be compensated if the train gets delayed beyond the threshold limit agreed between IR and DFCCIL.

Arbind Kumar, Director, Projects, RITES

RITES has taken up planning and design for various heavy and urban rail projects in India. It was involved in the planning of the DFC project and the Golden Quadrilateral connecting Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai. It is currently involved in the planning of high speed rail projects. It conducted a study for the Bhanupalli- Bilaspur-Manali-Leh project, Phase I, and provided consultancy services and prepared detailed project reports for various urban rail projects in the country, including the Ahmedabad metro, the Nagpur metro and some stretches of the Delhi metro.

Besides depot designing, RITES also takes up station designing works, depending upon the availability of personnel. It carries out planning in the most challenging terrains such as railway development in Kashmir and for the Bilaspur-Manali-Leh project. RITES has also started exploiting its potential in construction to widen its portfolio.

Besides the construction phase, several issues also crop up during planning and design. Land issues create difficulties in completing projects within the stipulated time period. Obtaining permissions and clearances from various state governments to conduct studies is an arduous task. Moreover, Indian companies lack technologies and trained personnel, while foreign players with advanced technologies are grabbing a larger share of the market by providing general consultancy services for various segments such as rolling stock, signalling and telecom.

Thus, technological enhancement is needed to improve the speed and accuracy of project execution. Improving the quality of surveys and setting realistic timelines for project completion are also fundamental for the development of any project.

Ajit Pandit, Additional Member, Railway Board

IR is the backbone of the country’s transport system and has received enormous government attention in the past few years. Various initiatives, plans and policies are being developed and huge funds have been invested in the sector recently.

Currently, several agencies are working together and expanding their scope of work to implement various rail projects. For instance, initially, RITES was the consultancy wing of IR, but now it is also executing projects. Ircon has opened its consultancy wing – Ircon Infrastructure and Services Limited. The Mumbai Railway Vikas Corporation has taken up the Mumbai urban transport project and the Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation has completed the tunnelling work for the Kolkata metro project.

Further, there has been a shift from developing new lines to gauge conversion and doubling, tripling and quadrupling of lines. A total of 77 line projects have been sanctioned for this purpose. This is because an estimated 40-50 per cent of the total construction cost is for acquiring land for the development of a new line, whereas only small patches of land are required in line doubling projects.

However, timely completion of projects is hampered due to various factors. Doubling requires concerted efforts by the company constructing the line as well as the one operating the existing line. Speed restrictions have to be imposed if work is being carried out near the tracks.

There are several teething problems regarding clearance of drawings and acquisition of land, which emphasise the need for the procurement of land even before tendering is done. Contractors also face royalty issues which slows down the pace at which work needs to be carried out for timely completion.

Challenges vary from project to project. In the case of new lines, these are related to land acquisition, whereas in line capacity enhancement works, problems often arise during the alteration of the existing yards. With projects for line doubling and tripling, a shortage of rails and signalling cables has also risen.

But IR is always on its toes to help contractors and companies carry out tasks competently. It is trying to ensure that land should either be acquired or there should be a fair guarantee that it will be allotted before launching tenders for a project. Further, in order to assist contractors in completing their work, IR has announced that it will make the goods and service tax (GST) neutral for its contractors, which implies it will compensate the contractor in case it stands to lose with the application of GST. Such reforms will assist IR in meeting the targets within the stipulated time frame.

Deepak Sabhlok, Director, Projects, Ircon

In the next one year, Ircon will develop 400 km of highways and 300 km of railway lines. It also plans to electrify 2,000 km of rail lines and carry out more than 100 km of tunnelling. Further, IR has given a mandate to the company that it can form joint ventures (JVs) with state governments for all projects relating to coal and iron ore evacuation. The state governments would have a 10 per cent stake in all the JVs. This has helped Ircon in speeding up project completion. For instance, Ircon has already achieved financial closure for Chhattisgarh East Rail Corporation projects and has secured a loan worth Rs 25 billion from a consortium of eight banks.

Even though the availability of funds is not a challenge any more, the development of new projects is hampered by two issues. First, acquiring land and environmental clearances (such as forest and National Green Tribunal clearances) are time consuming and cause delays in project completion. Second, various rehabilitation and resettlement issues crop up during project development because every state has its own guidelines. Further, states also fear that contractors may capture more information than needed to implement the project. This constrains contractor capacity.

For timely completion of projects, various measures are being taken. Tenders are invited on short notice and contracts are awarded as early as possible. Technological development, acquiring modernised machines and upgrading old ones are taken up enthusiastically.

Paul Wallet, Regional Director, India and Middle East, Trimble

With the advancement of technology, keeping track of project progress has become easier. Internet of things has enabled stakeholders to access project information from anywhere.

As the project advances, information and risk regarding the project need to be shared equally. Topography scans, data acquisition and data scans should be done at the initial stages. This information should be shared with the engineers to develop a proper design and determine what materials need to be used. Further, information needs to be preserved in a database for future reference.