G.Venkata Prasad, Director, Operations, Deep Foundations Institute of India
Utility shifting in transportation projects such as highways, railways and metro rail involves many challenges and requires efforts of multiple stakeholders. Invariably, this becomes a major cause for time and cost overruns in the execution of major infrastructure projects. However, if the required effort is put into developing a detailed plan, understanding the interdependency between critical activities, defining the roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders, and putting the required organisation structure, resources and monitoring mechanism in place, utility shifting can be handled smoothly and speedily.
A case study
We were involved in developing this plan for one of the project packages for the Western Dedicated Freight Corridor that has a track length of 343 km. The scope of the project involved the diversion and protection of a total of 585 electrical utilities (below 1 kV and between 11 kV and 33 kV).
The main contractor for this package was awarded a design-build lump sum price basis contract that involved the design, construction, testing and commissioning of civil, building and track works including embankments/ cutting, bridges and structures. The lump sum provided for all utility shifting – electric, water, gas related – including the removal of other obstructions is around 1.2 per cent of the project value while that of only electrical utilities is 0.9 per cent.
Timelines for utilities removal
The project duration is 48 months and the design development is planned in such a manner that the first-stage construction of bridges and earthwork commences from the 11th or 12th month after the contractual commencement date. By this time, the contractor is expected to put in place reasonable site infrastructure across 343 km to commence the main works. In addition, different utilities are required to be removed in all priority stretches so that the main project work can proceed unhampered.
By following the tender terms, we developed a process flow, which was approved by key stakeholders, and implemented in letter and spirit. The contract provides a bill of quantities (BOQ) for 585 electrical lines to be removed/diverted/protected/relocated at an agreed lump sum rate. We developed a format to assess the actual status of the electrical lines and to record the data in the presence of client/consultant engineers. Some of the lines that were part of the contract were not in existence or had already been relocated by the owners themselves before award of the contract. Other lines that were not part of the contract were found at a few locations. These details along with other utilities existing as per contract terms were recorded in the presence of the engineers.
A revised BOQ was drawn up with the revised details by reconciling it with the original BOQ, to understand whether the original scope of 585 electric lines increased or decreased and to arrive at an adjustment in the contract price. The project management consultant (PMC) then vetted this and forwarded it to the owner engineer with the recommendation of a price adjustment.
In the presence of an IR engineer, Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Limited (DFCCIL) engineer, a local electricity board (EB) engineer and a PMC engineer, an alternative route was identified by the contractor engineer for diverting different utilities as per prescribed guidelines and then drawings were made as per the approved format.
The railways’ project team needs to maintain the highest safety standards while building railway tracks and therefore as per protocol, utility drawings are required to be checked by four electrical engineers, one signalling and telecommunications engineer, three engineers from the project management department, and a chief project manager (CPM) (all from DFCCIL), seven engineers from different departments of IR, three PMC engineers, and two engineers from the local EB at different levels. In total, these drawings are signed by 21 engineers from four different organisations operating from different offices/locations.
As most of these engineers are busy with other day-to-day schedules and field visits, their availability is a major issue to sign these drawings in a time-bound manner. This is a time-consuming process as it requires approvals across levels. Before commencing the actual relocation of the respective electrical lines, the contractor has to forward the designs and drawings to different zonal offices of the EB along the entire 343 km length to obtain an estimate for inspecting the utilities after shifting, which is again a time-consuming job. Unless this estimate is obtained and paid for by the contractor, and the approval of the drawing by all authorities is in place, the contractor is not allowed to start the job. The limited availability of staff in different zones of the EB poses a big problem in obtaining this estimate in a time-bound manner.
Once both these activities are over, the contractor can go ahead with executing the job and have the complete line inspected once again to get it approved by officials from all the above-mentioned organisations. Only then does the work become eligible for billing.
Impact of delays on project performance
In the usual scenario, it takes 30-35 months to complete this job of shifting all the utilities, whereas it is supposed to be completed in five-six months after the contractor establishes the required site infrastructure in the initial 10 months to cater to the total 343 km length.
If this is not completed in time, there will be a break in continuing works for earthwork, bridges, subways and other structures in an uninterrupted manner in all locations where the respective electrical lines and other utilities are supposed to be shifted. Project progress suffers if these patches are left and these works have to be completed at a later date after shifting the utility line. In places where 8-10 metre embankments are to be built on a particular stretch, discontinuing the work for want of removal of particular utilities impacts the contractor’s productivity. Mobilising the required resources later will take a lot of time for filling and compacting small quantities of earth wherever gaps have been left and in the limited space after relocating the utility. This is also very cumbersome and less productive due to space constraints.
Mitigating delays risks – Way forward
The delayed completion of these works prevents the execution of subsequent works such as laying of ballasts and railway tracks in areas where such gaps are left. This in turn impacts overall project timelines and cost schedules substantially. To resolve this issue, a process flow was developed and presented to the CPM of DFCCIL and all his engineers including PMC engineers and their support was sought in speedy approval of drawings in tranches as and when submitted and in making field visits for approving the works whenever needed. The proposed approach was well appreciated by the owner/PMC team and they assured us of their total support in this regard.
Based on our request, the CPM has written a letter to the chairman and managing director of the EB to extend support to this project by deputing field personnel for inspections, approval of drawings, and providing estimates whenever these requests are made.
This worked well. While the drawing approval by DFCCIL, IR, PMC and EB officials for relocation was in progress, we forwarded letters to different zones by aggregating various utility draft drawings together, so that the respective officers could dedicate time to inspect the locations where rerouting was proposed at one go, approve the drawings and provide the estimate to the contractor for making the payment.
While waiting to obtain approvals on drawings and estimates from the EB, the contractor utilised the time to get quotes from specialist contractors authorised by the EB to shift the utilities and in finalising them after negotiations. The contractors were given the mandate to start sourcing the materials and other resources required for the shifting of the electrical lines.
Simultaneously, five fresh engineering graduates were identified to manage five stretches across the entire 343 km length. They were briefed on the process right from the initial inspection of the existing utilities, identification of revised locations, coordination with various authorities for approval of drawings and obtaining of estimates. An activity-wise programme was developed for all the utilities, and a monitoring mechanism was put in place for senior team members to review the progress while sitting at the central office. The billing process was explained so that the respective site engineers could take end-to-end responsibility for execution of this job.
We have made a quality/safety plan and put a training programme in place to train the concerned supervisors/workers and build a monitoring mechanism to check the performance of team members at different stages of the job.
All this effort and meticulously developed planning process including the review mechanism worked so well that the entire job was completed in around eight months, thereby helping the project team take up earthwork and bridges work in a timely and efficient manner.
(The content presented in this article is the author’s own and is based on his experience in the above mentioned project.)