Picking up Pace

Mumbai-Ahmedabad HSR project makes progress despite Covid-19 brakes

Indian Railways (IR) is aiming to transform the country’s conventional railway network with the introduction of a high speed rail (HSR) network. HSR corridors will connect key Indian cities such as Mumbai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Goa and Chennai, among others. The development of HSR corridors will facilitate the doubling of the speed of passenger trains to 350 kmph and the introduction of other world-class technologies.

The country’s first HSR corridor is the 508.09 km Mumbai-Ahmedabad corridor, which has made significant progress in the past few years. Construction activities on the corridor have commenced and contracts for some major civil works have been awarded. Besides, tenders for other works have been invited.

Indian Infrastructure takes a look at key features of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad corridor, the progress so far, the impact of Covid-19, the issues faced and the way forward…

Mumbai-Ahmedabad HSR corridor

The Mumbai-Ahmedabad HSR corridor project is being implemented by National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL), which has been incorporated with 50 per cent equity from the Ministry of Railways (MoR) and 25 per cent equity each from the Gujarat and Maharashtra governments. With a construction period of about seven years, the corridor is targeted for completion by 2023.

While the corridor has a design speed of 350 kmph, the operational speed will be around 320 kmph. A total of 12 stations have been planned under the project – Mumbai, Thane, Virar, Boisar, Vapi, Bilimora, Surat, Bharuch, Vadodara, Anand, Ahmedabad and Sabarmati. Of these, eight are in Gujarat and four in Maharashtra. All the stations will be elevated, except for Mumbai, which will be an underground station. The HSR corridor will reduce travel time between Mumbai and Ahmedabad from around 8 hours to 2.07 hours with limited stops and to 2.58 hours with all stops.

The total project cost, accounting for escalations, interest during construction, taxes and duties, stands at Rs 1.08 trillion. Of this, 81 per cent is being funded through a soft loan from the Japanese government at an interest rate of 0.1 per cent per annum. The time period for loan repayment is 50 years with a 15-year grace period. As per the latest updates, Rs 28.6 billion has been incurred on the project so far.

Of the 508.09 km length, 460.3 km (90.5 per cent) will be viaduct, 9.22 km (1.8 per cent) bridges and 25.87 km tunnels (including a 7 km long undersea tunnel) and 12.9 km (2.5 per cent) will be on embankment. Further, high-strength steel bridges have been planned to span existing railway tracks as the HSR will pass on these bridges.

Around 24 train sets comprising 240 coaches have been planned for procurement from Japan. Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited and Japan’s Kawasaki Heavy Industries have formed a joint venture to manufacture rolling stock for the project at its Jhansi and Bhopal plants with technology transfer from Japan. The operational control centre for the rolling stock will be located in Sabarmati, whereas the maintenance depot will be situated in Thane and Surat. Moreover a General Inspection Train of six cars will be deployed for measuring and inspecting the parameters of track, power supply and signalling and telecommunication systems.

On the technological front, the corridor will deploy the Japanese Shinkansen system, which has not had a single fatal accident in 60 years of operations. Meanwhile, since the corridor is being developed on the Shinkansen system, there is a need to train drivers, technicians and engineers so as to familiarise them with the new system. For this, an HSR training institute has been set up in Vadodara in which selected engineers and technicians will be enrolled.

As far as safety features are concerned, the corridor will deploy an early earthquake detection system, rail temperature monitoring and wind monitoring. Moreover, the most advanced passenger amenities will be made available throughout the corridor.

The operational plan of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad HSR corridor has also been laid down. It is expected that around 40,000 passengers will be boarded per day in 2023. Further, by the year 2053, the number of passengers travelling on the corridor will increase to 0.2 million. Initially, trains will have 10 coaches with a seating capacity of 750 passengers, which will eventually be increased to 16 coaches with a seating capacity of 1,250 passengers. The corridor will be equipped to handle 17,900 passengers one way on a daily basis, which will be increased to 92,900 passengers in the future. Further, there will be 35 trains in each direction per day.

Progress so far

An MoU was signed in 2013 between the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the MoR to conduct a feasibility study for the project. The study was completed in July 2015. JICA nominated Japan International Consultants for Transportation, Oriental Consultants Global Company Limited and Nippon KOEI to take up work from its side. The foundation stone for the project was laid in September 2017 and the groundwork began in December the same year.

In June 2018, NHSRCL invited the first tender to build a bridge in Navsari district of Gujarat. Thereafter, in August 2018, bids were invited for the design and development of the HSR station at Sabarmati. In March 2019, NHSRCL floated a tender for the development of a 237 km stretch of the HSR. The tender involves an estimated cost of Rs 200 billion and has a completion period of 44 months. Further, in March 2019, two 50 metre long training track slabs were prepared for the project at the HSR Training Institute.

As far as environmental clearances are concerned, the project areas, Mumbai, Mumbai Suburban, Thane and Palghar districts of Maharashtra, were granted coastal regulation zone (CRZ) clearance by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in April 2019. Clearance for the CRZ areas in Gujarat was obtained in February 2019.

Various contracts for the project have been awarded and several tenders for civil works are currently under bidding. In November 2020, Larsen & Toubro won a mega contract (Package C6) from NHSRCL to construct 87.56 km length of the project. The scope of the package includes construction of viaducts, one station, major river bridges, maintenance depots and other auxiliary works. The package represents 17.2 per cent of the total length, running from the outskirts of Vadodara to the outskirts of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, with one station at Anand. Further, civil work for the Ahmedabad HSR station has also begun at the existing railway station in the city. The project has made significant progress in land acquisition, with 66 per cent of the land being acquired by November 2020. Around 86 per cent of the land has been acquired in Gujarat and Dadra & Nagar Haveli, and 22 per cent of the land has been acquired in Maharashtra.

Impact of Covid-19

The Covid-19-induced lockdown, which began on March 25, 2020, led to a sudden halt in construction activity for almost all ongoing railway projects, and the Mumbai-Ahmedabad HSR corridor is no exception. The project faced a number of challenges, including difficulties in labour mobilisation and procurement of specialised equipment. Construction activity on the project was halted for almost two months before being resumed in May 2020, with work commencing on the Sabarmati rail terminal.

The project faced several delays in issuing bids during the initial months of the current fiscal year due to subdued response from the private sector. However, with the easing of restrictions and gradual economic recovery, there has been positive interest by the private sector.

What lies ahead

The Mumbai-Ahmedabad HSR corridor project has the ability to set a strong precedent for developing high speed train networks in the country. However, various issues that have emerged during the implementation of this project have challenged the feasibility of such corridors. Land acquisition has been one of the biggest concerns during the development of the HSR corridor, as land handover was delayed, owing to protests in various villages of Gujarat and Maharashtra. Other issues such as cost escalation, upgradation of tracks to handle high speed trains, competition from air transport and establishing of common construction standards for infrastructure components have also affected the efficient implementation of such projects.

Going forward, it is imperative for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad HSR corridor to establish itself as a flagship project of IR and facilitate development of more such corridors. IR has already announced plans to develop 10 new HSR corridors with a cumulative length of around 6,000 km and an investment of Rs 10 trillion over a period of 10 years. However, the implementation of these projects will depend greatly on the successful completion of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad HSR corridor.

Garima Arora and Varis Sharma

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