KMRC will successfully connect Howrah station to Salt Lake station despite financial and logistical hurdles
East and the West / Never the twain shall meet - so wrote the poet. However, at the Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation(KMRC), men and machine have undertaken this seemingly impossible task of meeting the two,--connecting the East of the City of Joy with the West -- overcoming multiple hurdles and many a deadline.
The 16.6 km East-West Metro(EWM) project connecting Howrah station with Sector V in Salt Lake that had at one point of time been saddled with seething problems including funds and infrastructure bottlenecks, has been off to a fantastic start, time and cost overrun notwithstanding. Going by the present pace of the work, the first phase of the project – Sealdah to Sector V – is expected to be operational by June end 2018.
And if everything proceeds according to the plan chalked out by KMRC, the second phase between Howrah Maidan and Sealdah will be thrown open to the public by June 2020. In phase-I, EWM will run underground for a length of 3.6 km while in the rest 5.8 km, it will run through an elevated corridor. Out of eight stations, six will be on the elevated stretch and the remaining two underground. In phase II of the project having a length of 7.2 km, the entire stretch which will have four stations will run underground.The deepest station at 27 meters below the surface will be Esplanade which is likely to handle at least 55,000 commuters per peak hour.
What makes EWM the most unique and smartest of all the metro projects in India? “The tunnel under the river Ganga is the first of its kind in India and the rakes will be driverless,” explained KMRC managing director Satish Kumar. All the tunnels have been designed to withstand future seismic shocks and there are separate evacuation routes for commuters in case of an emergency.Apart from the air-conditioned underground stations and AC rakes, there will be screen doors, elevators, lifts and stairs at every station. What has added a feather to the KMRC cap is the smooth and expeditious completion of the twin tunnels below the river bed without any hitch and before the onset of the monsoon.
“The tunnels under the river were a big challenge for us and its exact finish is a milestone for us and a marvel of modern engineering,” Kumar claimed. In fact, the imported Tunnel Boring Machine(TBM), having completed its first task, is presently working at top speed – nearly 22.25 meters a day – and within a week, it is expected to finish the work under the Writers’ Buildings, the erstwhile seat of the state administration and a British heritage building. Very soon, it is likely to reach the Esplanade station.Asked whether the soft alluvial soil under the river bed could cause problems like seepage of water at a later stage, he pointed out that the technology of TBM is such that it would be taking care of all such teething problems with automatic concrete walls which are again reinforced by steel structures.
According to him, a lot of precautions and planning have been done before undertaking each and every digging, be it underground or over the ground. Kumar cited the instance of heritage buildings in the Dalhousie Square and some unsafe buildings along the Brabourne Road. The KMRC authorities, with the assistance from the Kolkata Corporation, have shifted the residents from the unsafe buildings to hotels to enable the engineers to reinforce the cracks and other places that might have a possibility to give in at the time of TBM working at top speed.“While tunneling in Howrah, we’ve bored below very old buildings like Colvin Court and DRM (Divisional Railway Manager) buildings and so far, no cracks have appeared anywhere. Hence, we’re confident we’ll move forward steadily without any hassle,” Kumar observed. Not only that, the engineers will keep a watch on structural distresses and soil settlements and keep recording the safety parameters of the buildings for the next one and a half months.
The project which is being closely monitored by the Calcutta High Court has overcome some legal hurdles at the Salt Lake stretch and objections from Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) over underground digging at places where heritage buildings are located. “ In fact, the way various agencies particularly the judiciary have come forward to salvage the project, will be a yardstick for other projects that are being held up for years,” claimed one official. The TBM which has so far overcome several engineering challenges had once remained stuck in alignment quagmire for nearly five years. “It was indeed, a colossal loss of time and contributed to massive cost spiral; but one can’t help,” he added.
Perhaps, the most intriguing yet fascinating feature of EWM will be the driverless trains. The CBTC (Communications-based train control system) being implemented for the first time in India, will ensure automatic train operation without the requirement of any train operator. Nevertheless, the EWM authorities have decided to deploy a person at the motor to remove any misgivings of the passengers.
“Our aim is to ensure an efficient, automatic and flawless operation; between stations, through the tunnel, stopping of trains at platforms, the opening of train doors and platform screen doors—everything will be an automatic yet complex operation,” the KMRC MD said. What is more important is that the project has begun exuding a collective positivism which is a must for any project to achieve success. No wonder the City of Joy is waiting to proclaim “Wherever you go, East or the West, EWM is the best.” (EOM).
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