Safety with a BIG S – Konkan Railway during the Monsoons

The 740 km long terrain that Konkan Railway Corporation Limited (KRCL) runs trains on, sees one of the heaviest monsoon rains all over India. It is the only section in India which has a separate monsoon timetable for trains between June 10 and October 31 every year.

Interestingly, rivers and streams on Konkan Railway flow east-west and the line runs north-south. This poses many a challenge to KRCL’s maintenance activities along the alignment.

During the monsoon, KRCL turns into a paradise for an onlooker travelling by train. However, this paradise has its own set of foot soldiers (trackmen) entrusted with the responsibility of maintaining one kilometre of track per person.

Special attention is given to four things – river bridges, rock cuttings, tunnels and embankments. There are 91 tunnels on KRCL besides numerous rock cuttings, embankments, bridges and viaducts. All these come under the ambit of geo-safety works.

Cuttings

In deep cuttings, the angle of slope is reduced by making steps and catch water drains on top so that there is no water flow into the cutting. Water comes into the drain and flows out.

KRCL has designed its drainage system so well that one will find the track running between two drains for distances of four kilometres in cuttings. The drains are sloped and lined for water to drain out. After the monsoons, the tracks are cleaned.

In rocky cuttings, there are nets for falling boulders. Thorough pre-monsoon inspection is done using a BRN machine with a manned lift for about 250 km of cuttings.

Maintaining the 740 route kilometres on KRCL is akin to maintaining about 1900 kilometre of track in plain flat land.

Bridges

KRCL bridges have been solidly designed taking into account the treacherous terrain the line passes through. There is a stringent schedule for bridge inspection, a lot of records of bridges are maintained as per standards and are certified at various levels. Periodical inspection is done and action is taken if any problem is identified.

Tunnels

KRCL has 91 tunnels which have been rock bolted to anchor loose boulders to the parent rock and prevent them from falling. Shortcreting using sand cement synthetic polyester fibres to arrest boulders and loose rocks from falling is also done wherever required.

There is a water leakage problem in all tunnels. KRCL has to live with this fact, but the operator ensures that water is properly drained. As long as the water is draining there is no pressure on the tunnels.

In addition, there are watchmen manning cuttings and tunnels to ensure that trains are stopped in case of heavy rains causing a landslide or flooding. This is over and above the speed restriction imposed on each train during the monsoon (as per the monsoon time table) and gives that extra time to the watchmen to stop a train besides the fact that the driver can control the train better if the speed is less.

Embankments

Standards for various earth layers of an embankment on KRCL have been very stringent. For instance, at Saundal, a newly constructed station between Vilavade and Rajapur Road, the height of the embankment is 25-30 metres over which construction is carried out making the alignment stable.

Barring the lone incident of soil being washed away at Nivasar station yard -south of Ratnagiri because of unprecedented rains in July 2010 causing a geological problem deep down where the line was then completely shifted (source KRCL annual report FY10), there has been no other incident related to embankments on KRCL.

 In the last few years, there has not been any untoward incident on Konkan Railway. KRCL seems to be fully aware of the financial implication of slowing down trains with regard to turnarounds, but then safety comes first.

Photo Courtesy: Lalam Mandavkar

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About the Author: Raghavendra Rao

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