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Mumbai - Veer - Khed - Chiplun - Ratnagiri - Rajapur Road - Sindhudurg - Mapusa Road - Goa - Udupi - Mangalore - Kochi - Thiruvananthapuram
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 then.

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 kilometre.
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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.
Konkan Railway

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.

The Challenge
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.
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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.
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The project had to be tackled on several fronts simultaneously. Contractors willing to do this difficult tunneling work had to be found, and the land had to be acquired. This involved compensating the owners, right down to the value of the trees that grew in their farms. A single mango tree, depending on its age and yield, had to be compensated by anything from Rs. 2,000 to Rs. 10,000; Cashew and Jamun trees were valued at a minimum of Rs. 1,000; jackfruit at Rs. 2,000 and coconut, surprisingly at a mere Rs. 500 to 600.

Some problems were unexpected. At Baindoor, down south, the rock turned out to be softer than it looked. Tunneling work on hard rock could be completed at the rate of three to six metres per day, but where the workers were confronted with soft soil and water, only half a kilometre of tunneling could be done in that time.

Land Acquisition
There were problems with people too. Though the Goan government estimated an increase of tourist arrivals by 15 to 20% with the Konkan Railway, it was here that the maximum problems occurred. Land acquisition took a long time in Goa, and when this was sorted out, a controversy erupted over the alignment of the railway track.

Work had to be suspended in March 1993 in the 55-km stretch between Mayem and Bali, while a one-man committee consisting of Mr. Justice Oza looked into the matter. Mr. Oza confirmed the alignment as adopted by the Konkan railway, recommended additional inputs such as an increase in bridge opening and road crossings, and work commenced. Nine months had, however, been lost. There was a delay, therefore, in the completion of the 1.1-km. Zuari Bridge in Goa, which was ready last October.


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