Those who had a ride on the fast Metro rail corridor to the IGI Airport in the capital should consider themselves lucky. The latest site inspection reveals that they were rolling over a track of which 91 per cent of the bearings—invisible heroes located between the track and the pier—are dislocated.
A Joint Inspection Committee (JIC) comprising experts drawn from Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), Indian Railways and Reliance Infra, partner of DMRC in this maiden private-public partnership (PPP) project, did site survey soon after the 23-km Metro corridor between New Delhi Railway Station and IGI Airport was shut on 8 July.
According to the JIC report, the train was allowed to run over a track, where “91 percent of the bearings are defective or dislocated; 32 percent of these bearings have cracks, are torn or bulged; 81 percent of the grout over bearing have cracked or disappeared; 33 percent of the grout under bearing are cracked; and cracks have appeared in seven percent of the girders, holding 23-km long rail track”.
Not only this. Oscillation or tremors are felt at 48 locations, when train passes, the JIC report finds among other observations.
All these defects are found in the civil structure that DMRC was responsible for. Present Delhi Metro chief Mangu Singh was then director (works) and the work was entrusted to a Malaysian multinational company IJM (India) Infrastructure Limited. The JIC report will be handed over to a two-member committee, fixing responsibility for the poor construction. The members are Additional Member (Railways) AK Gupta and Additional Secretary (Urban Development) Deepti Vilasa.
JIC findings get credibility, as a meeting taken by urban development secretary Sudhir Krishna on 7 July had asserted that “the contractor was responsible for not providing a hole on top of the pre-stressed girders as per design to facilitate proper grout filling from the top. Due to this, grouting had to be done from the side. This was a serious lapse on the part of the contractor”.
IJM, which specialises in highway road constructions, was the contractor for construction of airport line viaduct.
Reliance Infra’s CEO Sumit Banerjee pointed out that the work does not involve “maintenance repair, but rectification or 100 percent replacement of defects in civil works”.
The 7 July meeting had insisted that there is a need for repairs of the defective bearings and fastening system preferably by the Reliance Infra to its satisfaction. “The line must become operational soon, as it was serving the people very well… The primary concern was safety of the passengers and to maintain the high image of the metro. It was important to win back the confidence of the people and to ensure that the system after repairs would be safe as ever,” the meeting observed.
The Airport Metro was commissioned on 23 February 2011 and it ran for exactly 16 months before the shutdown. During these 16 months, it carried 6.8 million passengers in 70,000 trips. The track, which was completed in just 27 months, is expected to have a lifespan of 100 years. Reliance has a contract for 30-years to operate on the airport track. The train can run at a maximum speed of 125 km an hour, but the Reliance Infra had reduced the speed to 80 and even below 80, when it discovered cracking bearings.
Former Metro chief E Sreedharan will not be happy to learn that exactly a month (8 June) before the shutdown, DMRC’s chief project manager Ravi Kapoor had declared the Airport line ‘fit’ despite repeated warnings from the Reliance Infra!
“Based on the feedback given by your (Reliance Infra) engineers regarding the condition of bearings and grout material, inspection has been done on some critical locations. It is found that line is safe for operation from Civil Structure point of view at a restricted speed imposed by you (Reliance Infra)… In case further deterioration is noticed, the speed restriction can further be reduced immediately.” This is what DMRC’s Ravi Kapoor had recommended in his letter dated 8 June to Reliance Infra!
DMRC suggested this ‘remedy’ after the Reliance Infra had repeatedly stated that “there are signs of the distressed bearings, bearings which are not aligned, bearings which have moved from their original position, non-standard installation work, bottom and top and bottom filling having mostly cracked with pieces having come out, reduction of load bearing areas, permanent restrain in the form of steel strip provided on pot bearings and very very poor workmanship. All drainpipes are choked. There are signs of girder having sunk at some locations as a result of deformation/cracks”.
The Metro Airport line, which was expected to put Delhi among other cities like Shanghai, Tokyo and London on the map of fast rail tracks, was shut down, only when an independent inquiry conducted by Shirish Patel and Associates submitted a report on 21 June and confirmed serious lapses in civil structure.
Expressing serious apprehensions about continuation of the airport line operations, the independent report said: “The main concern will be that of possible derailment especially if unacceptable deviations in the track alignment are noticed.”
The report suspected deformations of the track because a chunk of concrete had moved out on a pier. “We could clearly see sunlight at this location suggesting that a small chunk of slab of the U girder (beyond the bearing) has got dislodged,” the report said.
The JIC report suggests massive replacement of defects, which means that the airport line will take at least six to eight months to start again. The two-member committee will also file a report detailing who were responsible for the defects.