Mumbai: Investing in tunnelling technology, especially carving out tunnels under water as well as in treacherous terrain like the Western Ghats and the Himalayan range, can boost the Make in India mission, according to a top railway official.
It would save the country a lot of foreign exchange and will dovetail into Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ vision, the top Konkan Railway (KR) official told.
Repairs of the tunnels along the KR track could only be fully undertaken after track doubling, said B.P. Tayal, the Konkan Railway’s chairman and managing director, shortly after Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu formally announced the setting up of the George Fernandes Institute of Tunnel Technology in Margao, in South Goa.
Stating that tunneling expertise has to be developed, Tayal said: “At present whatever doubling we are doing in Jammu and Kashmir, it is designed and supervised by foreigners for us. We are losing a lot of foreign exchange in that and they are not passing the knowledge to us.”
The Tunnel Technology institute, being started in partnership with the Goa University, will promote education and research in tunnelling technology, which the country would desperately need for creating connectivity to India’s remotest regions, the official said.
“We need tunnelling technology in the years to come. We would need technology like this and centres of excellence, which would further such technology,” Tayal said, adding underwater tunnelling technology could also be a key area of research and application in the coming years.
Asked whether indigenous tunnelling technology would dovetail into Modi’s vision of Make in India, he said: “Make in India will save a lot of foreign currency. We will have expertise.”
Once considered unfeasible because of the treacherous, loose-soiled and hilly Western Ghats terrain, which it was meant to snake through, the Konkan Railway route now boasts of 91 tunnels and over 2,000 bridges stretching over 736 km starting from Roha terminus in Maharashtra and to Thokur in Karnataka.
The expertise gained by KR’s engineers in tunnelling technology has enabled the Konkan Railway Corporation Limited to pitch and successfully execute railway as well as road tunnelling and bridge construction contracts in India as well as abroad.
KR is currently engaged in constructing tunnels as well as prestigious projects like the bridge over the Chenab river – the highest bridge in the country – in Jammu and Kashmir.
Speaking about the challenges of doubling the Konkan Railway track and carving out dozens of tunnels all over again on the 736-km-long track, Tayal said: “We had constructed these tunnels in the 1990s. Now we are far ahead in technology and expertise. We know what kind of rocks are there in one tunnel. All we need to do is to start on new tunnels 50 metres away from the present ones”.
“We will use technology which will cause least damage to environment. We have already undertaken a lot of plantation,” he said.
The challenges in drilling tunnels through the Western Ghats were enormous, he said, adding that the cost of construction often ranged between Rs.50 crore and Rs.100 crore per km.
“The tunnels at Pernem, Old Goa and Barcem are the most difficult tunnels on the Konkan Railway route,” he said, blaming loose soil and ecological risks as major issues.
“We are still struggling with these tunnels, because you cannot close down the (single) line. But this can be taken care of when we do the doubling,” the official added.