In the past few years, there has been significant impetus to infrastructure development in the country. Large projects such as the Bogibeel bridge, the Nagpur metro rail system and the Chenab bridge that involved complex implementation techniques have been taken up. However, issues such as shortcomings in conceptualisation, modifications in design and inadequate surveys, cost overruns, delays in payment to contractors, meagre private participation, lack of coordination between different agencies and ineffective project monitoring, among others, persist in project execution, leading to inefficiencies.
India Infrastructure hosted a special interactive session in association with Bentley Systems on “Advancing Infrastructure: New Approaches and Best Practices”, in New Delhi on October 11, 2018. Stakeholders such as rail and road developers, contractors, consultants and technology providers participated in the session. The discussion revolved around the role of technology in transforming project delivery and ensuring efficient project implementation. Different perspectives were shared to throw light on the major advancements and issues in the infrastructure sector.
In a nutshell, the infrastructure domain is steadily progressing towards digitalisation of processes by adopting innovative technologies right from the conceptualisation of a project to its final delivery and management thereafter. World-class technology solutions are being introduced with the involvement of international consultants. 3D mapping technology and sensors for surveys, improved grade of bars for bridges, ballastless tracks, and Japanese technology – Shinkansen – for developing high speed rail (HSR) systems, and project monitoring software, among others, are some of the key advancements that have already penetrated the Indian infrastructure ecosystem. Further, infrastructure sectors are opening up to the adoption of global technologies by tweaking them to suit Indian conditions. Initiatives are also being taken to streamline the decision-making process. For instance, state governments have been mandated to form joint ventures with the Ministry of Railways for taking up railway infrastructure projects. Through this, feasible projects will be identified and a project-specific special purpose vehicle will be formed for project implementation.
Technology penetration on the rise
Several complexities are involved in the implementation of an infrastructure project and proper planning is vital for timely execution. For example, in the case of HSR projects, huge investments are involved and therefore project conceptualisation is key to their successful implementation. In this context, demand estimations for alternative routes to analyse revenue sources is necessary to ensure feasibility. During the process, a large volume of data is collected and collated to draw inferences about the feasibility of the corridor. Based on this, the technology solution can be finalised. One such corridor is the Mumbai-Ahmedabad HSR that has been conceptualised using similar methods and approved for execution using Shinkansen technology. To extend the corridor beyond Ahmedabad up to Delhi, Indian Railways (IR) plans to adopt European technology to ensure cost efficiency. Further, both the technologies will be integrated to ensure safety.
World-class technological solutions are also being deployed by IR to overcome shortcomings in railway projects. For instance, ballastless tracks are being deployed instead of long welded tracks to eliminate the need for periodic maintenance. Further, IR has changed its technology evaluation approach to life cycle cost analysis instead of calculating the cost of implementation, for ascertaining realisation of benefits on a long-term basis. Project monitoring software has been deployed to ensure accuracy in project execution and eliminate the chance of errors. With these changes, significant progress has been made as a number of doubling, tripling and new line projects have been taken up during 2017-18. Old tracks too are being upgraded at a fast pace.
In the case of bridges, stainless steel reinforcement bars are being used for construction. By 2019, more than 20 per cent of new bridges are planned to be developed using this high-grade steel. Further, there are plans to introduce stainless steel radar bridges in the country as they are cost effective. These bridges are currently being used in some European and Scandinavian countries. The 5 km long Bogibeel bridge on the Brahmaputra river has also been developed using the latest technologies from Sweden and Denmark.
The increasing instances of bridge collapse has been a major issue for which technological initiatives in terms of timely inspections and surveys are essential. To this end, IR has introduced the concept of third-party inspection to carry out independent audit of bridges. Going forward, the inspection of more than 5,000 bridges is expected to be carried out through third parties. Riverbed mapping is another technology solution which is being deployed to enable early detection of faults. Sensors are being used to understand stress-strain handling capability of old bridges.
Another area of concern that needs urgent attention is that of unmanned level crossings. With regard to this, IR plans to construct around 7,000 bridges using standardised methods. Although several new technologies and methods of bridge construction have already been introduced, IR is also open to introducing equipment such as rectangular tunnel boring machines for the construction of rail underbridges below stations.
The path ahead
Till date, IR has separate agencies for consultancy and execution of railway projects. However, detailed project reports prepared by one agency are generally not accepted by the other, resulting in modifications in design. This leads to delays in implementation and escalations in cost. IR is now looking for a single agency to do all the work related to a project. Further, safety needs to become the utmost priority for which IR must work towards minimising human intervention. For this, automated design and project management software can be adopted. Also, new software that can optimise train operations and reduce time lag due to disruptions need to be adopted. Management of huge data on rail operations is another complex process that can be efficiently managed through artificial intelligence.
Technology providers such as Bentley also offer several technological solutions to improve process delivery of a project. One such solution is the 5D building information model system which provides an integrated platform to all stakeholders for viewing 3D models and the information related to the project throughout its life cycle. The technology has already been deployed for the Nagpur metro and the Chenab bridge project and can be replicated in other projects as well. Another modelling application on offer is concept stations which allow civil engineering professionals to create conceptual models of tunnels, bridges, viaducts, etc., through engineering drawing tools. This helps in analysing the designs and taking informed decisions. Virtual component project management is another important technology that can be used by infrastructure companies. The technology, based on 4D and 5D technology, collates the information from various sources and attempts to remove any step that has incorrect logic or identify a strange sequence in the project management process.
Technological improvements are also required in operations and maintenance practices as they are vital for the long-term operational efficiency of a project. Fault detection systems have been identified as another priority area for upgradation. Though the system is primarily used for inspecting rolling stock, it can also be used to monitor fixed infrastructure such as tracks, bridges, etc.
Moreover, IR is carrying out a study to develop a technology called smart yard to switch from preventive to predictive maintenance of assets. Through smart yards, data from various types of sensors such as hot box detectors or acoustic bearing detectors will be collected and analysed to prevent accidents. This new innovation will not only improve the quality of repairs and increase reliability but will also reduce the time involved in repairs.
Though design and planning are time-intensive processes, they are crucial for the successful implementation of any infrastructure project. With several new projects on the anvil, a shift from traditional design methods such as manual surveys to drones and other advanced technologies is required. Further, for hassle-free project execution, timely communication and coordination between various stakeholders through digital platforms, technology transfer between countries, and exchange of ideas and information is also necessary. To sum up, digital technologies need to be adopted at every stage of the project development process for speedy and sound implementation.