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Steely Resolve


Ashwini Bhide, MD, MMRCL, has fought against the odds to ensure that Mumbai’s first underground metro sees the light of day

by Jayashree Kini-Mendes & Bibhor Srivastava

In most developed nations, a sensible government first builds the infrastructure and after seeing it is good, attracts people to move in to these cities. In India, we have been putting off urbanisation for so long that it has also meant postponing prosperity. For a country so beloved of trains, India has taken a long time to acquire a standard emblem of a modernising country—a high-speed urban transportation system such as the Metro Rail.

In theory, India is ill-equipped to create urban transportation systems systematically and neatly. Often, any new project coming up in a city takes up a sizeable space of the already narrow roads and creates hurdles for commuters. Moreover, no urban infrastructure project is without its fair share of litigations and none have seen progress without locking horns with environmentalists and citizens groups.

It is amid all such controversies and more that the Mumbai Metro Line-3 is coming up in a city that is starved for alternate transport solutions. It is also amid all these that Ashwini Bhide, managing director, Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (MMRCL), is determined to build the Rs 23,000-crore project on time as she firmly overrules every effort to thwart progress. When the Construction Week India team met her in her office at Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC) at the new MMRCL headquarters, the soft-spoken and smiling Bhide belied the determination and Dunkirk spirit of a bureaucrat. Bhide says, “There was much opposition to this project initially. But we were thinking for the long run and it was our determination and the support from government agencies that is helping this project move ahead.” Having worked with MMRDA for six years and two years with MMRCL, she says that the support from stakeholders and government agencies has been unparalleled. But she is undeterred about the sheer size of the project, the complexity of activities involved and the fact that work has to be managed in a limited space.

Bhide knows that the city has no choice. Each day 80 lakh commuters use the Western and Central Railway while the BEST ferries 29 lakh passengers per day. Still the system groans. The MML-3 becomes not just a novelty, but a necessity. She says with a certain pride that MML-3 will connect six business districts that do not fall within the ambit of the Indian Railways network and the reason this project should see the light of day. MML-3 will also ease travel to major hospitals, educational institutions, and also mean a straight dash from Colaba to the airport. Importantly, according to estimates, it will take off 6.60 million vehicles off the road and save the country 2.95 lakh litres of petrol per day. The MML-3, when complete, will transport 14 lakh passengers per day and in few years reach maximum capacity of around 17 lakh passengers per day.
For years transport in Mumbai lacked investment and a high-profile champion. Hence, most of the novel development projects in Mumbai have been executed by the MMRDA, the nodal agency that prepares plans, formulates policies and programmes, implements projects and helps in directing investments in the Region. Also the reason the MML-3 fell into its lap. She says, “Grand projects help, at huge cost. But there is a simpler way of adding capacity. Mumbai’s cramped and congested infrastructure does not allow one to construct above-ground. So underground was the only choice. An underground project has several challenges. Mumbai has hundreds of old buildings, heritage sites, not to forget the propinquity of buildings.”
Ask Bhide about how she and her team have planned the project, and she concurs, “We want a project that is flawless. That can only come through methodical procedure. We have been careful with selections of each and every contractor involved in the design and construction.”

For instance, knowing the tricky geographical and underground terrain of Mumbai, MMRCL has ensured that contractors do a rerun of the geotechnical investigations. There is also no room for sidestepping and flouting set norms. However, Bhide concurs there are complexities. “Since the construction of tunnels is primarily in hard rock and locations for underground stations are in congested areas, there are bound to be construction challenges,” she adds.

MMRCL has to look at various factors such as arborist assessments, building conditions survey, geotechnical investigations, groundwater monitoring, level settlement monitoring, noise and vibration, laser scanning, visual inspections, and utility investigations.

There are several firsts in this project. It is for the first time that 17 Tunnel Boring Machines (TBMs) have ever been deployed simultaneously for any project in the country. With 26 stations underground (and one at grade), the Corporation, after a feasibility study, has decided to create 19 stations through cut and cover, while seven stations will be created through the New Austrian Tunneling Method (NATM).

Cut and cover construction involves using excavation equipment to dig a large trench or rectangular hole in the ground which is then covered by a concrete deck. Once the deck is in place, surface activity can resume as construction works continue below. In this method, the structure is built inside an excavation and covered over with backfill material when construction of the structure is complete.

NATM seeks to maximise the terrain´s inherent resistance and support capacity, and is recognised as one of the most economical techniques for building and evaluating tunnels. Besides offering significant savings in support material costs, personnel and a reduction in project timelines, the method exhibits great resistance to the geological pressures seen underground. NATM allows the deformation of the rock mass before stabilising the tunnel.
While elaborating on the benefits of the project, Bhide said, “Mumbai Metro 3 corridor for the first time will provide rail based connectivity to six major employment centres like Fort, Chirabazar, Worli, BKC, Marilyn and MIDC.” Connectivity to both the domestic and international terminals of Mumbai airport is also an important feature of this project.

Looking deep
The 33.5km long fully underground corridor has two aspects of underground construction: One is, of course, the tunnel, and the other is construction of stations. Bhide says, “As far as tunnels are concerned, there isn’t much conflict with the underground utilities, since the tunnels are 20-25m deep, and at that depth there are no utilities. But there were other challenges. Since the project is divided into seven packages, we needed land for seven launch shafts that would generally take up surface space of 25m long x 25m wide so that TBMs could be lowered into them for building the line’s twin tunnels. The land for this purpose has been received from the state government, and secant piling works for TBM launch shafts has begun at all seven packages of the line.”

Ask her about dealing with irate citizens during the land acquisition phase, and Bhide says that patience has helped her win over people. “There are political parties who were up in arms against the project not to forget citizen groups from elite areas. But we engaged in dialogue with them to help them understand the long-term benefits of the Metro,” she adds.
For execution purposes, MMRCL divided the entire corridor into two packages: Civil and systems. For the civil works, it has contractors in place for all the seven packages. Works on systems (rolling stock, electrical, substations, signalling & telecommunication, automatic fare collection, ventilation and control systems) will start when civil works reaches a certain phase. MMRCL has completed the PQ bid evaluation for signalling, PSD, train control and communications last month. For all other systems, pre-qualifications are almost over and contracts for automatic fare collection, station security system, and track work should likely be awarded by May. Bhide says, “As per the detailed project report (DPR), the project is to be completed within six years but we are running a little behind. However, it is our resolve to complete Phase I by September 2020.” But on a cautious note, she adds that considering Mumbai’s geography and the complexities of the project, the team is keeping its fingers crossed.

Interestingly, the bidding process was stipulated by JICA and MMRCL sticks to their guidelines. The bid documents were based on FIDIC contracts Yellow Book with a two-stage process of prequalification and then award. The Corporation preferred to shortlist all seven packages simultaneously. While the contractors could bid for all seven packages, they could be awarded only two packages. MMRCL had roped in IIT (Bombay) to prepare the software that would ease the process.

The hottest frontier
It is not easy for gigantic projects of this size to get its finances in order even before the start of the project. But MMRCL had worked out all the aspects of financing early on. MMRCL, which is a JV of the government of Maharashtra and the government of India, has been lucky that both parties have placed about 10.4% of equity, with JICA providing a soft loan of 57.2%. The State Government’s equity has been placed by MMRDA, which takes care of 21% of the project cost. The remaining money would come as subordinate debt from both the governments again. Bhide said the Corporation has also received contribution of Rs 800 crore from stakeholder MIAL, who will bear the cost of building the three stations. MMRDA is also pumping in around Rs 700-800 crore by way of grant, while MMRCL will generate Rs 1,000 crore by commercial development.

Spinning a win

In May 2015, MMRCL took the MML-3 project closer to fruition when it appointed general consultants through an international competitive bidding process. The AECOM Asia led consortium is also helped through a JV between Padeco (Japan), LBG Inc. (USA), and Egis Rail (France), on the ‘quality and cost basis’ in concurrence with JICA guidelines.
The GCs, who double up as project engineers are responsible for evaluation of bids for civil work and assist in appointing contractors, review detailed designs, prepare tender design and documents for procurement of track work, rolling stock, system components, supervision of supply and installation, system integration, testing and commissioning of system components, supervise works and ensure safety, quality and environmental aspects, and all the while ensuring there are no time and cost overruns. Incidentally, MMRCL will ensure that its rolling stock employs regenerative braking that can lead to substantial CO2 emissions reduction.

For an all-round experience, MMRCL has placed some of its employees to work closely with the GCs. Later, Bhide sent a small delegation to Australia, Singapore and Malaysia, to understand the metros in those countries. This has helped the Corporation understand ways to build smaller stations from the 270-280m it had planned earlier. In September 2016, MMRC issued work orders for 7 Civil packages each of which involves construction of 5km long twin tunnels and 3-5 stations. All contractors have mobilised their manpower and machinery and civil work has started. Adequate work front has been made available to them by rehabilitating about 1,000 families. Approvals from the traffic police department, utility shifting agencies and other regulatory bodies have been obtained and this ambitious project is poised to take a big leap of progress.

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