Mukul Jain, Director, Operations, Rail Vikas Nigam Ltd (RVNL), talks about the company´s ongoing projects under the current modernisation drive of the Indian Railways.
Tell us about the work being done by RVNL for modernising the network.
There are basically two kinds of projects. One is the greenfield projects where we are going to construct an absolutely new line. The other type is where we construct along the existing track, the doubling or third or fourth lines.
Most of the work we are doing today is the doubling or the third lines where the scope for innovation is limited because we are doing it alongside the existing track. However, even within those constraints, we still try to innovate. We are using solar energy. The stations we are constructing have a lot of green components - solar energy, water harvesting and so on. Then, we use all kinds of modern techniques for stabilisation of track and soil so that the tracks are stable, are of good quality, have longer life, provide better riding comfort, etc.
Are you working on any greenfield projects?
Yes. The maximum scope for innovation is in these greenfield projects. One important ongoing greenfield project is along the river Ganga from Rishikesh to Karanprayag. It will go right up to near Badrinath. This is being constructed in the lower Himalayan range. It is a very difficult terrain because the Himalayas are a young mountain range. We started with the alignment, using satellite imagery and ground control points. We engaged an expert for this, an Italian company, for fixing this alignment. The other project is a line which is going from Punjab right up to Himachal Pradesh. We are doing the first 60 km. It will ultimately go right up to Ladakh, hopefully. This is along the river Vyas, then crosses over to Lahaul Spiti. We are using the same techniques here as in the Rishikesh project.
We are also using very modern techniques in the expansion of the Kolkata Metro. Due to the urban sprawl, the safety considerations are an integral aspect.
After the recent crash of the Vivekananda flyover in Kolkata, RVNL was asked by the West Bengal government to also do the demolition of the portion that was still hanging dangerously. That was a very delicate operation requiring precision and safety.
That´s not a Railways project...
No, it isn´t. I´m mentioning it only because it called for high technical expertise in demolishing big structures. However, another piece of high-tech work we are doing is in south India with respect to the Pamban bridge, that connects the town of Rameswaram on Pamban Island to mainland India.
(Opened on 24 February 1914, it was India´s first sea bridge, and was the longest sea bridge in India until the opening of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link in 2010. The rail bridge is for the most part, a conventional bridge resting on concrete piers, but has a double leaf bascule section midway, which can be raised to let ships and barges pass through).
That is a bridge that opens up, like the Clover Bridge, to allow the big ships to cross. Being very old, it is now in need of replacement. In terms of money, it is not a very large project. However, in terms of complexity, the Railways has chosen RVNL to undertake the project. This bridge has also been featured in television shows in a list of most amazing railway projects around the world. While this was constructed over a century ago, we are now replacing this with a state-of-the-art bridge.
What are the technical standards you follow in Indian Railways´ projects?
When you talk about modernisation, in terms of tracks and structures, the Indian Railways has a set of rules that are all standardised. There is a body under the Railways known as the Research Designs and Standards Organisation (RDSO). Anybody who is constructing any infrastructure for the Indian Railways has to build it according to these standards, revised time to time by RDSO.
Our scope in giving a new design of a railway track becomes extremely limited because the final output has to be as per a particular standard. Everything is specified to the last second point of decimal. The standards have been optimised keeping in mind aspects of safety, construction, cost, etc.
What are some technologically innovative or modern things that you are doing?
In the southern region, we have employed a lot of soil stabilisation measures and techniques. We are using geo-materials there. They are present for a couple of years to stabilise the soil and then they dissolve. They are all green products. Meanwhile, we have grown some kinds of grass and shrubs that will hold the soil.
In another project, we recently started construction on a cable-stayed bridge over the Barddhaman railway yard, which, after some time, should become as famous as the Howrah bridge. This is being constructed over a functional railway yard with about 12 electrified railway lines. This is extremely technical work and only the third cable-stayed bridge in railways.
Third, with respect to signalling, this is an integral part of all track construction, both for doubling and the third lines. RVNL has to not only construct the new lines but also integrate them with the existing systems. That is a critical part of any new line construction along the existing lines. For some time, the entire railway signalling work has to be disrupted. It is like surgery where, for a while, you have to put a patient to sleep but in our system, it is like heart surgery where the blood has to continue to flow!
We are experts in this, and just as a matter of record, we constructed 352 km of new lines compared to the entire railway administration put together, that constructed 695 km. This means we constructed almost 50 per cent of the total lines. This year, we could construct around 400 km of tracks and which would mostly be the doubling of lines. With regard to new projects, there are very few and the Indian Railways is also not laying an emphasis on new lines as much as it is focused on strengthening the existing network. Modernisation is a continuous process. With electrification, signals get modernised. With doubling, modern signals are installed.