The Konkan Railway: An Epic Journey of Engineering and Innovation
When it comes to transportation in India, the Konkan Railway is a true masterpiece of engineering. Spanning over 740 kilometers along the west coast of India, it is considered one of the most challenging and perhaps the most difficult railway undertaking of this century. It connects Thokur, near Mangalore in Karnataka to Roha railway station in Maharashtra, passing through Goa and the Western Ghats. The Konkan Railway is operated by the Konkan Railway Corporation, and it is a marvel of engineering that is widely known and admired all over the world.
The Konkan Railway is a unique example of human perseverance and innovation, as it was built across some of the toughest terrains in India. The project faced multiple challenges, including the lack of data for the route and negotiating with thousands of landowners to acquire the required land. Despite all the challenges, the Konkan Railway Corporation Limited (KRCR) was successful in completing the entire process in just one year, which is remarkable considering the typical timeline for projects in India.
The project also had to deal with challenges posed by nature, including flash floods, landslides, and tunnel collapse. The area was covered with thick, dense forests, and construction sites were often visited by wild animals such as tigers. Additionally, the railway line faced severe criticism from environmentalists who argued that the proposed alignment would cause destruction of the ecology, damage to historical sites, and disrupt the lifestyles of people in the densely populated coastal region.
Despite these challenges, the Konkan Railway was successfully constructed thanks to the tireless efforts of the “Metro Man” of India, E. Sreedharan (IES). After the success of the Konkan Railway, Sreedharan was entrusted with the responsibility of building Delhi Metro, one of the best metro systems in the world.
To achieve the target speeds of 160 km per hour, a near-flat track with a gradient of less than 1 foot in 150 feet and a curvature of 1.25 km radius had to be maintained. The only way to achieve this was by boring long and numerous tunnels through mountains, building tall viaducts through valleys, creating high embankments, making deep cuts between peaks, and building several bridges over water courses. Satellite images were used to decide on the alignment, and proving trips were undertaken into inhospitable terrain to map the area accurately.
The project was decentralized to enable efficiency and speed. The entire stretch of 740 kilometers was divided into seven sectors of approximately 100 km each, headed by a chief engineer. Several innovative practices were adopted to enable quicker construction, including the use of the technique of Incremental launch and nine hydraulic tunnelling machines imported from Sweden to bore through the hard rock of the Sahyadris.
The biggest challenge, however, came from the nine tunnels that had to be bored through soft soil. No technology existed anywhere in the world for this purpose, and the work had to be carried out through a painstakingly slow manual process. Excavation was almost impossible due to the clayey soil that was saturated with water owing to a high water table in the region. Several times tunnels collapsed immediately after they had been dug, necessitating work to be redone. Nineteen lives and four years were lost while constructing the soft soil tunnels alone. In all, seventy-four people perished during the construction of the line.
The Konkan Railway is truly an engineering marvel that stands as a testament to human perseverance and innovation. It is a remarkable achievement that showcases the potential of human ingenuity to overcome even the most challenging obstacles. Today, it serves as an important mode of transportation for millions of people, providing them with a safe and efficient means of travel.
In May 1998, the Mumbai to Mangalore train project was successfully completed, allowing passenger trains to travel along the full route. Notably, the project was funded without relying on government funds. The railways and states of Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, and Maharashtra jointly pooled Rs.800 crores in authorized capital, which was further leveraged through public bonds to the tune of Rs.2250 crores. These bonds offered attractive returns, tax benefits, and guaranteed repayment.
Remarkably, the project was completed in just eight years, a speedy timeline for India. Its management was also incredibly lean, employing only 2400 people at its peak. The project has since become a tourist attraction, as its bridges, viaducts, and tunnels are a marvel of design and engineering. The blending of nature and man-made structures is a sight to behold, and the project’s seamless operations are a source of pride for Indians who desire modernization in their country.