On the fast track
BY Bibhor Srivastava & Jayashree Kini-Mendes
Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible, so said Tony Robbins, a self-made man and self-help coach. It is this pithy saying that comes to mind when one meets Mangu Singh, managing director, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) — the man responsible for bringing revolutionary changes in the way people considered public transport with the execution of the Delhi Metro.
Importantly, what he has achieved can be termed as nothing short of impossible. Consider this: Before the Metro was built, public transport was not considered a dignified way of travelling, especially among the middle- and upper-class people. Connectivity was a problem and distances took long to cover, but people didn’t have a choice. But two things happened in the early 80s. The national capital saw a two-fold rise in population and a five-fold rise in the number of vehicles when Maruti Suzuki launched the first small and affordable cars. The consequences were obvious. Traffic congestion and pollution soared and more people took to travelling in private vehicles as the existing public transport was unable to bear the load. The government stepped in and attempted to privatise the bus transport system in 1992, but that only compounded the problem with untrained operators plying poorly maintained, polluting buses on lengthy routes at a sluggish pace. A solution was needed to iron this out. And so in 1995, the government of India and the government of Delhi set up the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC).
Singh has been associated with the Delhi Metro since inception and has worked closely with ‘Metro Man’ E Sreedharan who was then MD of Delhi Metro. Singh says with a smile, “It has not been an easy ride. India was building her first modern mass rapid transport system and there was much ground to cover. We had little knowledge of the kind of technology, budget, and anything else that went into building a system of this kind. All we knew was that we wanted to change the way people travelled.”
It must be pointed out here that Kolkata opened India’s first metro (16.5km) in 1984. However, because of reasons that we need not go into here, the project did not inspire confidence in the Indian Government to promote this further.
And Singh knew that well. In order to plan the Metro network, Singh, who hails from a small village in Uttar Pradesh, which is nearly 200 kilometres from the National Capital, knew that he required extensive knowledge of the entire city. “We started from scratch. We got the entire team to walk all over Delhi to select corridors and swoop on actual locations where stations could be built. In short, we needed to know every road and corner of the city and one that I have done personally,” he adds with a hint of pride.
Work in progress
Looking back, it is a matter of deep fulfilment for Singh that the rest of the country took to emulating the metro system after seeing the clockwork precision of the workings of the Delhi Metro. Singh says, “When we started Phase One in Delhi, there were none in the country who had know-how as far as modern metro systems are concerned. So we looked outside India where metro systems had already been established. As a first step, we followed a methodology that was common in other countries and that was to rope in international consultants. But one thing we did differently than what is the norm globally was a promise we made to ourselves to thoroughly understand and absorb the knowledge transfer from the consultants before we have completed Phase One.”
To be capable to build a metro system on their own going forward, the core team at DMRC paid a visit to almost all major existing metro systems in the world to understand the way they had been developed and their stumbling blocks (if any), while also deciphering the new metro systems being developed in Singapore, Hong Kong, Cairo, etc. “We studied all of that and culled out what would be a good system for India and only after that engaged the consultants. Here too, we ensured that we were completely involved in every decision taken into the kind of technology adoption, the methodology, and the system that we would go on to create. We also planted some of our mid-level officers with the local consultants, and one person with an international consultant across all major areas of technology like signalling, rolling stock, and telecommunications and that helped our people to absorb knowledge within no time,” adds Singh.
The experience helped Singh and his team create a stronger organisation and manage all the project management, planning, and subsequent phases without any external help. Over the years, the new Metro Man has introduced new technologies and innovative methods of construction of metro tunnels and structures to achieve economy, safety, quality and speed of construction. The credit for using Shield Tunnel Boring Machines and introducing New Austrian Tunnelling Method (NATM) for the first time in the country goes to him. He has also been thrust with the additional responsibility of helping in preparing the master plan and Detailed Project Reports (DPRs) for Metro system in other cities of the country like Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Kolkata, Lucknow, Kochi, Jaipur, Ludhiana and Ahmedabad.
A high-speed revolution
Construction of the Metro was not an easy task. Certain parts of Old Delhi had buildings sitting on weak foundations and the Corporation had to think of alternate ways before they start building underground. One way to achieve this was to dig the tunnel at a depth of more than 20 metres. Special cutter heads had to be procured for Tunnel Boring Machines (TBM) and at several locations the Metro viaduct had to be built over railway bridges and flyovers without disturbing the traffic using steel span bridges.
In a first, DMRC also built India’s first extra dosed bridge over operational railway lines. A state-of-the-art 553m long continuous, single pre-stressed box girder was used to build a bridge by using a special technique called ‘incremental launching’ and since the bridge is advanced by sections, unlike conventionally built bridges, there are no joints and this ensures a smoother journey for commuters.
Singh says, “DMRC also used 22-27m long girders in constructing the Airport Express Corridor, which was completed in just 27 months. These girders were precast in the casting yards, brought to the site on trailers and launched with the help of cranes which takes lesser time than the conventional segmental launching technique involving the use of launching girders. The longer spans came up over traffic intersections and the girders rest on specially designed pier caps cantilevering towards the tracks on both the sides.”
Another major step that was introduced to further improve underground tunnels is the installation of Mass Spring Systems (MSS) on the tracks to prevent any kind of vibration from reaching the structures above these tunnels. MSS helps in mitigating vibrations generated by the passing trains at the source itself. The material used for isolation is a microcellular Polyurethane Elastomer (e.g. Sylomer from Getzner, Austria).
For curing of the civil structures to enhance their strength and durability, ‘sophisticated curing compound coating’ were explored as per international practices.
In Phase 3, DMRC has adopted a new technology to build underground subways on busy roads without disrupting the traffic movement. The subway was constructed using the ‘Box Pushing’ technology, below the busy ITO intersection roads (Indraprastha Marg) without disturbing the traffic movement above. As per the ‘Box Pushing’ technology, vertical excavation or large-scale digging is not required. So the Corporation preferred pushing six Reinforced Cement Concrete (RCC) boxes with the help of hydraulic jacks to create the 48m long subway tunnel.
The trains use centralised automatic train control (CATC) comprising automatic train operation (ATO), automatic train protection (ATP) and automatic train signalling (ATS) systems. Singh says, “In Phase 3, we are using the most advanced and latest signalling system which is CBTC, a communications-based system. The advantages of this system are that there are few ground installations, which means lesser equipment. It is basically a communication-based and you can virtually run train one after the other with a 90-second frequency.” With the CBTC technology, more train trips will be possible with the existing number of trains and within the same infrastructure. The CBTC is a railway signalling system that makes use of telecommunications between trains and track equipment for traffic management and infrastructure control. This system helps state the exact position of a train more accurately as compared to the traditional signalling systems. This will be the first time that CBTC system will be used in India. This technology is widely used for the world’s leading metro networks across Spain, Paris, Beijing and London.
Throughout the entire process, DMRC has also ensured that it maintains a transparent bidding system for the rolling stock, signalling and telecommunications systems, among other things. Going by the L1 rule-book, Singh says the Corporation has taken care to maintain two-packet systems wherein it evaluates the technical bids first and only after it meets their approval, goes ahead to open the commercial bids. “When the technical bids are not up to the mark, we return the unopened commercial bids packets back to the vendors,” he adds.
Also for the first time, swanky new trains will be most attractive feature of the upcoming Phase 3 project of the Delhi Metro network. The ultra-modern trains will be driverless and promise a whole new experience altogether for commuters on the new and upcoming corridors.
Singh says with pride that the Delhi Metro has also contributed tremendously on the environment front by becoming the first ever railway project in the world to claim carbon credits for regenerative braking. In 2008, the DMRC was certified by the United Nations (UN) as the first Metro Rail and Rail based system in the world to get carbon Credits for reducing green house gas emissions as it has helped to reduce pollution levels in the city by 6.3 lakh tonnes every year thus helping in reducing global warming.
It also has more ambitious plan. Singh says that DMRC has already achieved more than 6MW of solar power installations and contract for another 10MW is already in place. “So by next year we will have around 20MW. As a principle, we have decided that all new lines and new elevated lines will have 100% solar power so that the entire power requirement of the stations is met by the solar power. This we have done already on the Faridabad line and the entire power requirement is met by solar. Of course, this does not include tracks. I am talking about the requirements at platforms such as light, escalators, etc. Similarly, all our depot structures are also equipped with solar power,” he adds.
On a final note, Singh says that in its construction work also, DMRC has always endeavoured to adopt eco-friendly practices. For example, for every tree cut during construction work, DMRC planted ten trees to ensure that there was no depletion of the green cover due to Metro’s expansion.