Friday 18 October 2019

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Infrastructure | Railways

Yet another KRC deadline to go off track

 

Yet another deadline of fully commissioning the Konkan railway is expected to go off the track, despite the fact that the Konkan Railway Corporation Ltd engineers are making all efforts to fulfil its promise, at least this time.

The "last and final deadline" announced here last month by Railway Minister Ram Vilas Paswan was 15 August, to mark the golden jubilee of India's independence. But the practical situation existing in Goa, where lie all the problems of delay, indicates very clearly that linking Karnataka to Maharashtra is impossible before the year end.

"Only the almighty God is perfect. We, the human beings, are bound to have some deficiencies due to which our work gets delayed. But why don't you realise that Konkan railway is the first such longest project in the country completed only in eight years ?', asks S V Salelkar, the KRCL spokesman.

The Konkan railway - a dream of konkanis along the west coast - has already started running in Maharashtra and Karnataka. Of the 760 km-long line, Mumbai is now linked upto Sawantwadi, completing the track of 364 kms. From southwards, the railway has now entered Canacona, the border taluka of Goa, completing 285 kms from Mangalore.

But still remains 111 kms, from Canacona to Sawantwadi, with two troublesome tunnels at Old Goa and Pedne and the sinking embankments in Cortalim, on the banks of Zuari river. The authorities have made all preparations to bring it upto Margao, capital of South Goa, by 29 June. But meeting the deadline further is a Herculean task, admits Salelkar.

Digging the soft soil through tunnels is not the only hurdle the KRCL is facing to connect Mangalore to Mumbai. Much ahead of Pedne or Old Goa southwards, the 20 metre-high embankments at Cortalim is the pain in the neck. As the 400 metre-long embankments from Zuari river to the Verna tunnel started sinking in the marine clay, the KRCL changed its strategy last year and built three bridges, total length of which is 230 metres, leaving 20 metre-long embankments in between, in a record time of five months.

The testing would be done during monsoons by running the rail engine, informs Salelkar, to inspect the strength of embankments. He however rules out the possibility of sinking it totally, as the 20 metre-high embankments are mechanically compacted at every stage. He also admits that some cracks on it are visible and the engineers are on work to arrest the problem.

Talking about 542 metre-long Old Goa tunnel, which is full with soft soil and it took seven long years to complete against all odds, says Salelkar : "it is the biggest achievement of human endeavour". Fighting against the nature with the help of all available technologies and determination, only 50 metres of top lining is the pending work in the tunnel now.

Even if the KRCL succeeds in bringing the railway upto Pedne station, the North border of Goa, after tackling the problems of Cortalim embankments and Old Goa tunnel, a small stretch from Pedne to Sawantwadi would still remain, due to the 1.5 km-long incomplete tunnel. They are working hard to complete it by September end.

The local engineers seem jubilant, finding 250 metre-long hard rock from northwards in the tunnel, the drilling work with a boomar machine on which has started from 23 June and expected to be dug through in two months. But same amount of time would be required to complete the 30 metre-long stretch of soft soil in the same tunnel from South side, at the rate of half a metre per day.

Unleashing of heavy rains has also caused problems in welding the tracks on the remaining stretch, while landslides along the whole line from Roha to Mangalore is disrupting even the ongoing traffic. "It's a common problem everywhere. You find it on Pune-Khandala stretch even today, after 120 years", claims Salelkar.

The prestigious project, actual work on which started since 1989, has however cost the corporation fortunes. The additional amount of external commercial borrowings as well as the time over-run has escalated the construction cost to over Rs 3000 crore, against its original estimated cost of Rs 1800 crore.

The delay is costing the KRCL over Rs 10 crore per month only on payment of interest. E Sreedharan, the CMD of KRCL, admits in the sixth annual report that one-year delay, till March '96, had cost additional Rs 100 crore in the financing cost, besides Rs 200 crore on the work side.

As a result, Mr Sreedharan states, the project cost got hiked from Rs 2034 crore estimated in February '95 to Rs 2230 crore in April '96. Similarly, the financing cost has also gone up from Rs 450 crore to Rs 550 crore, thus escalating the total cost from Rs 2484 crore to Rs 2780 crore.






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