Consider the benefits in terms of
travelling time. For those who have wanted to travel from Mumbai to
Mangalore, for instance, the only alternative to the National Highway 17 has
been a 41- hour circuitous train journey on the central railway through the
interiors of the peninsula. This long winded route goes via Wadi in
Karnataka, Guntakul in Andhra Pradesh, Salem in Tamil Nadu and Shoramun in
Kerala before approaching Mangalore from the south- a total distance of
2,041-kms now, with the Konkan railway, one is able to cut through in 15
hours, a distance of 914-km. Mumbai to Kochi will take 24 hours, as compared
to the earlier 36 hours, and Mumbai to Goa, only 10 hours instead of the 20
That is the kind of time it will take on trains that run at a maximum speed
of 100-km per hour. But the lines are being built, say Konkan Railway
officials, for a speed potential of 160-km per hour. If all goes well, it is
quite likely that passenger trains will run at least at 130-km. per hour.
It is this requirement for high-speed trains, combined with the daunting
terrain that makes the Konkan Railway Project such a marvel of civil
engineering. A track designed for such fast trains means that at any given
point, here cannot be a gradient of more than 1:150 - the track can
rise or fall one metre in every 150 metres. In addition, it must not
suddenly curve; turnings have to be at the rate of 1.4 degrees every
A Tunneled Voyage
Translating this into reality has been a major challenge. The hills, so
many of them, have had to be either bored through or cut up, and wherever
there are deep valleys, engineers have had to build high earthen embankments
or bridges. And this has had to be done for most of the 760-km route.
Indeed, there are 169 major bridges and 2,630 minor ones, and 88 tunnels
with a total length of 82-km. It is the first time that Indian Railways is
constructing tunnels longer than 2.2-km, and there are nine such tunnels in
the project. They have all been equipped with jet fan ventilation systems, a
new technology to offset any pollution caused by the diesel-hauled trains.
As for the viaducts-bridges across valleys - there is one that is the
tallest in the whole of Asia. This is the Panval Nadi viaduct south of
Ratnagiri at a breathtaking 64 metres.
At Ratnagiri, where the terrain is the hardest of all, the track does not
come to the ground for several kilometres. It bores 3-km into a hill, passes
over Panval Nadi and spanning half a kilometre, passes through another
tunnel for more than two 2-km before going across yet another viaduct.
A project of this magnitude needed extensive surveys, but though the first
tentative steps in this direction were taken in the early '70s it was
only in October 1984 that the ministry of railways decided to take a serious
look at it. The final survey for part of the west coast line from Madgaon to
Mangalore was done, spanning 325-km in march 1985, the scope was increased
to cover the remaining length of the line, from Madgaon to Roha. The
southern railway, which was entrusted with the final location survey,
submitted its report to the railway ministry in July 1988.
It was going to be an expensive proposition. When the very first survey had
been done, in 1882, estimated costs had been Rs. 10,000 per mile. In the
1900's, it worked out to an average of Rs. 2.5 crore per kilometre.
New railway lines are usually constructed out of government funds allocated
through annual railway budgets. Already, Indian railways had 27 new projects
on hand totalling 2,150-kms with Rs. 2,000 crore required for these, and
with the planning commission earmarking about Rs. 250-300 crore per year,
even the ongoing projects were expected to take eight to ten years.
Since the Konkan Railway was a fast-track project, the railway department
decided to use an innovative approach for finance. The central government in
the ministry of railways and the state governments of Maharashtra, Goa,
Karnataka and Kerala, entered into an agreement on June 19, 1990, to set up
a public sector undertaking under the ministry of railways. The cost of
construction was to come partly through equity capital invested in the
undertaking, and partly through funds to be borrowed from the market. Thus,
the Konkan Railway Corporation Limited came into being, with Mr. E.
Sreedharan as its chairman and managing director.
Obstacles To Crossover
A sophisticated communication network was set up through the leasing of
dedicated microwave channels from the department of telecommunications.
These channels, used for telephone, fax and computer networking, ensured
that decisions were taken speedily. The communication network was also used
for all aspects of operations, including train control, scheduling and
ticketing. It is the first time a computerisation scheme for operations was
being attempted on the Indian Railways.
While the computerisation network was being put into place, tunneling
machinery was being imported from Sweden, and this was ready to function
within a year. This was crucial; a government organization would normally
take years to even place the order. Other key decisions were being made as
well, such as the decision to have captive plants for sleepers.
The sleepers being used for the Konkan Railway are made of concrete, giving
them a life of 50 years. Wooden sleepers, which are normally used for
tracks, last for only ten years, and each one requires a whole tree to be
cut down. Each concrete sleeper factory produces 3,00,000 sleepers in three
years, and there were four factories dedicated only to the Konkan Railway.