The metro rail segment in India is expanding at a rapid pace, with excellent long-term prospects, supported by a government push in the form of business-friendly regulations and financial support. The rate of growth is expected to double or triple in the future, as cities are in desperate need of metro rails for daily mobility needs. India’s urban infrastructure has received an impetus from metro rail projects, which have unquestionably emerged as one of the finest developments in the Indian urban transport sector.
Multiple lines are currently being constructed in Mumbai. The Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) is currently constructing a 33.5-km long fully underground metro line that will connect the city’s north and south ends. Currently, 97 per cent of the tunnelling is complete, with only two stations remaining to be tunnelled. This metro route runs through buildings, heritage buildings and civil infrastructure, and also crosses a body of water. Due to the topography of Mumbai, which complicates logistics and adds to construction, creating safety issues, as well as on the geology of the city, this project is the most complex urban infrastructure project in India. A couple of these stations are also being constructed using keyhole surgery.
The Mumbai metro lines 2A, 2B, 7, 4A, 6, 9, 7A, and 3, which are now under construction, are a mix of elevated, underground and fully underground lines.
Bengaluru is currently developing Phase II and Phase II-A of its metro line. Of Phase I, 42 km is now operational, while 26 km of Phase II was just completed and made operational. Phase II-A is an underground metro system that connects the airport to the city. Four underground packages are now under construction, along with elevated packages. Metro lines are being expanded beyond city limits in an effort to connect with the airport. By 2024, it is anticipated that the underground packages granted in 2019 will be mature and ready for commissioning.
Impact of Covid-19
Like other industries, metro projects have suffered greatly as a result of Covid-19, especially the supply chain, local production and labourers. Even in places where services have reopened, significant losses will continue to be experienced as a result of social isolation and other Covid-19 practices. Ridership is expected to be roughly 25 per cent of pre-Covid levels.
With the third wave of Covid-19, it has been observed that people in the industry now know how to function with this impediment. In India, attaining 70-80 per cent of pre-Covid performance levels would now be considered good and a formidable learning experience for all involved.
To expedite project execution, greater diversity has been introduced to avoid the concentration of people in one location. Additionally, more machinery and less manpower is being deployed in recent times, and discussions are now being held via videoconferencing rather than traditional meet-ups.
Given that this is a safety line, a great deal of focus has been placed on instrumentation and monitoring. Another aspect that has been heavily explored is ensuring safety by design. Study designs for in-progress projects contribute to the viability of working in close proximity to buildings and constructors.
Bengaluru in particular has encountered its own share of pandemic-related challenges. It is crucial to recognise that the Indian construction business is labour intensive. Each mechanism or development requires a group of people to run it, and productivity is largely dependent on how the mechanism operates and the people who operate it. Production in the city was slow even prior to the pandemic; in fact, personnel deployed prior to the pandemic produced only about 60-70 per cent of the planned output. As a result of project delays and decreased productivity, the financials were harmed and cash flows were reduced.
The lockdown prompted a large-scale migration of labourers back to their home towns. This was due to a combination of the fear of Covid-19 and job loss, and a lack of visibility regarding resumption of work. Due to the disruption in construction caused by the coronavirus outbreak, the completion of Mumbai’s most awaited metro lines 2A and 7 is expected to be delayed by at least three to four months over the initial estimated deadline, which was February 2022.
Tech in metro railways
Digital technology has been used for a few years now in the construction industry, with metro as its focus. The metro rail industry is undergoing a digital revolution, with the internet of things enabling onboard sensors that provide real-time analysis and monitoring, identify issues and delays, automate maintenance, and ensure a train’s location is always 100 per cent accurate.
Some of the practices being followed are the religious use of interfaces. Underground construction – indeed, any construction – requires a highly precise interface; otherwise, rework will be required, consuming a great deal of time and money. As a result of the pandemic, meetings to discuss interfaces have moved to videoconferencing. India has already granted 3D and 4D building information modelling models, and is gradually advancing towards awarding 6D models.
Indian metro railways have embraced digital technology that enables them to operate more efficiently. Even during the pandemic, the construction of three-tier stations took only 100 days. Two shuttle carriers for Mumbai metro have also been imported for the first time in India, with one shuttle capable of lifting 155 tonnes. This assists in streamlining the erection process and enables erection in any setting, including those with moving vehicles beneath.
The growth and development of cities has been defined by metro rail systems; yet these systems have their own set of challenges that must be resolved in order to attain a greater overall advantage. Numerous obstacles stand in the way of metro rail projects, including financial viability, traffic over- or underestimation, land acquisition and resettlement challenges, loss of green cover, noise pollution, and vibration concerns.
A particular problem that has arisen during the ongoing construction of Mumbai metro lines is tree cutting and the plantation. Even though the projects are 24-30 months old, approval has not been granted despite being requested at the start. The difficulties of rehabilitation and resettlement are analogous.
The major construction activities that pose a risk to workers at the site include excavation, underground piping fabrication and erection, concreting, rigging, structural steel erection, scaffolding erection and dismantling, gas cutting, welding, confined space entry, radiography, cable tray cable duct installation, paving, fixed and hinged leg replacement, and painting work at great heights.
As far as the working conditions of skilled labourers are concerned, proper housing at sites, and provision of water, electricity, medical camps and regular check-ups can boost their confidence.
Lastly, contractors should adopt a more mature bidding practice in order to take into account unforeseen circumstances.
Based on a panel discussion between Mayank K. Jain, Head of Transport Business, J. Kumar Infraprojects Limited; N.S. Sridharan, Deputy General Manager, Larsen & Toubro Limited; and S.K. Gupta, Director of Projects, Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited, at the recent “InfraBuild India” Conference