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Konkan Railway delayed again by tunnel collapse

Sandesh Prabhudesai in Panaji

A crucial tunnel being dug on the Konkan Railway collapsed on September 26, putting back the completion of the still incomplete 760-km railway, worrying bankers, engineers and dependent hoteliers, builders and real estate agents, among others.

Though Railway Minister Ram Vilas Paswan assured the commission that the line linking the west coast to the rest of the country would be ready this month, it looks unlikely before January.

The current collapse -- not the first -- in the Pernem tunnel, fortunately claimed no lives. But the Konkan Railway Corporation has lost 36 days, while 90 metres of the 1.5 km long tunnel still remains to be dug.

KRC engineers and labourers have been struggling for the last six-and-a-half years to dig through the soft soil of the tunnel. They predict they will come across hard rock once they cover 49 metres. But digging will be still slow, at the rate of three meters per day for hard rock, though it will be far better than the 1.5 metres per day for soft soil. Once the tunnel is made, there are still the tracks to be laid. All of which will take time.

"We are in a habit of making the impossible things possible", said S V Salelkar, the KRC spokesperson, when asked if it was possible to meet the new November deadline. But site engineers disclosed that digging alone would take till November, and that could be retarded by another collapse.

At the rate of Rs 7 million per day as interest on loans taken, the KRC has already lost Rs 252 million in the last 36 days. Clearing the debris and correcting problems costs us three times more, said a site engineer.

The Konkan Railway already runs between Bombay and Sawantwadi in Maharashtra, and between Mangalore in Karnataka and Pernem station in Goa, covering a total of 738 kms.

But unless the 22 kms between Pernem and Sawantwadi are connected, the project will not be complete.

Meanwhile, the KRC's rail car, started in association with the Goa government, is also running into losses because the timings don't suit office-goers.

"It's a conspiracy between the state and the private bus operators", allege KRC officials while Salelkar remains conspicuously silent.

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