11 July 2020

Interaction-S V Desai, Executive VP & Head-Heavy Civil Infrastructure

The metro construction boom to continue in the EPC space


L&T has established itself as the foremost builders of metro rail systems in India and is presently executing 19 projects across 10 cities in 3 countries. In addition to ongoing metro projects in 8 Indian cities viz.: Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Kolkata, Ahmedabad and Kochi), the company is also part of the consortiums constructing the Doha and Riyadh Metros – the latter which, when finished will be the largest in the world. As L&T rides the metro boom, S V DESAI, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT & HEAD – HEAVY CIVIL INFRASTRUCTURE, L&T CONSTRUCTION shares his views with CONSTRUCTION OPPORTUNITIES about the present scenario and the opportunities in the offing in the metro space. 


What are the opportunities you are seeking in the metro space going forward? Tell us about the metro projects in which you are looking to contribute?

There is no denying that the metro rail system is a quicker, greener and much more comfortable mode of city commute and hence more and more cities will decide to develop metro systems, sooner rather than later. Interestingly, a metro can carry the same amount of traffic as 9 lanes for buses or 33 lanes of private motor cars apart from reducing journey time by anything from 50–70 percent, depending on the prevailing road traffic conditions. At present, the metro market in India is pegged at about Rs.25,000 Crore considering the projects under execution and those that will be commissioned over the next two years. Further, the intent of the Union Government is to invest about Rs.1.2 Lakh Crore for the construction of metro systems across 15 cities over the next 5 – 7 years which reflects the growth trends of cities in other parts of the world. For example, the South East Asian and Middle East markets are expected to receive investments to the tune of up to Rs.2.8 Lakh Crore in the metro segment alone. Both these factors of growing demand and government support augur well for the industry and hence we are bullish about fresh opportunities in this space.

Our portfolio ranges from elevated rail to underground metro rail corridors, station buildings along with alignments to expansive depots. Several modern technologies have been adopted, including the conventional Drill and Blast Method (DBM), the New Austrian Tunnelling Method (NATM), Tunnel Boring Machines (TBM), and soft tunnelling using road headers for underground alignments. We are implementing Incremental launching and full span ‘U’ girders to fast track the erection of superstructures and elevated corridors with minimal hindrance to road users. L&T is also a leading contractor for Traction and E&M works that involve installation of Flexible and Rigid Overhead Catenary Electrification apart from Signalling and Telecommunication including Automated Fare Collection systems.



Provide us a brief idea of the existing market opportunities and your strategy to tap those going forward?

I have already shared the two major reasons for the boom in India for the construction of metro rail systems. L&T, as an organisation, is well-placed to capitalize on these opportunities as we are in the EPC space and our design and execution capabilities give us an unique and competitive advantage. Going forward, we will be able to offer comprehensive metro rail construction solutions with our expertise in Civil, Mechanical, Electrical and System integration.



Please detail us the challenges faced by companies such as yours in metro rail construction

Being capital intensive, metro rail construction requires massive funding which often proves to be the biggest stumbling block for the expeditious execution of projects. Globally, the metro projects are viable because they are built with public funding. In India, projects are being awarded both on EPC and PPP models. Although the Hyderabad Metro that we are executing is the largest metro project on a PPP model, we prefer such projects on EPC model because:

  • Higher construction costs lead to increase in project prices
  • Capped fares
  • Unattractive IRRs (Internal Rate of Return)

Non-availability of ROW (Right of Way) and constraints in land acquisition are other factors that are constant irritants in the way of quick and speedy execution of metro rail projects.



What sort of support or policy changes are you expecting from the government with regards to metro rail projects execution?

Metro rail construction logically being a requirement in Urban Areas, needs support of all stake holders including the Government and Government subsidiaries like Land Authorities, Traffic Regulators, Utility Providers, etc. Since ROW and constraints of land acquisition, utility diversions and traffic diversions are the biggest road blocks, we feel that the Ministry of Urban Development should direct the metro rail authorities to possess at least 75 – 80 per cent land with Right of Way cleared, Utility Clearance Permits and Traffic Diversion Permits before issuing the ‘Notice to Proceed’ to contractors. Compensation mechanisms, in case of delays especially those which are of no fault of the contractors, should be explicitly mentioned in the contract to protect the interests of contractors.



Detail us with regards to the latest technologies like construction equipment, software, building materials etc., your company is using in metro rail projects.

Metro rail systems can either be over-ground as in the case of Hyderabad Metro, which is totally elevated, or underground or a combination of the two as in the case of Delhi Metro.

Metro structures have to be sturdy enough to bear the weight of a city’s heavy traffic which calls for strong, firm foundations and L&T’s geotechnical arm offers engineering solutions to the entire gamut of geotechnical and foundation engineering for metro systems. Trench cutter equipment was introduced in India by L&T for underground stations involving rock socketing and permanent diaphragm walls. We have installed India’s first secant pile wall for the Delhi Metro Rail project at Hauz Khas. Deploying a large fleet of state-of-the-art Plant & Machinery, L&T propels progress from the initial stages of foundation to completion.

As pioneers of precast technology in India, L&T has been using this technology aptly in the metro segment. Starting from simple precast segments that are tied together to form a full span of the metro portals, an entire span is now being cast as a single piece to fast track project completion. Called ‘U’ girders, these trough-like heavy concrete structures are cast at a dedicated yard under standard factory conditions and then shifted to the site where they are merely lifted and placed into position using a combination of heavy duty cranes. L&T has taken precast technology to a new level by constructing even station buildings using this innovative technology. The concourse and platforms are now precast and erected in place at the station buildings thereby fast-tracking completion of these complicated structures along the metro corridors. In fact, except for laying of foundations and erection of pillars which are both in-situ processes, over 85 per cent of the works are precast! For the Hyderabad Metro, precasting is one of the construction methods that has been used to standardise quality and accelerate speed of construction.

The underground metro comprises tunnels and stations: Tunneling is done by Tunnel Boring Machines (TBM) or by NATM (New Austrian Tunneling Method). The selection of the tunneling method depends on the ground conditions, surface features and dimensions of the tunnel. Based on the constraints and location, the stations can be constructed using:

  • Top Down Method with diaphragm walls
  • Bottom Up Method with Soldier pile/Sheet pile / Secant pile
  • Combined Top Down and Bottom Up Methods (Diaphragm walling with shear pins)

A cost effective technique for erecting Over Track Exhausts (OTE) segment was proposed and executed at the Chennai Metro that achieved an excellent erection speed of 10 OTEs/day.


Digitalisation: The Digital Revolution marks the movement from analog and mechanical devices to digital technologies. Digitalisation is about working with tools and practices based on information and communication technology that improves productivity. Areas of focus for Digitalisation in L&T are P&M Monitoring, Project Monitoring & Control, Safety, Engineering & Design, Customer Interactions, Employee Involvement / Engagement and Procurement.


Power of BIM: L&T has implemented Building Information Modelling (BIM) in Hyderabad Metro (3D) and now are in the process of implementing 5D BIM in Mumbai. We have a competent BIM Team that enhances value to the customer by increasing productivity, decreasing cost by avoiding rework, facilitating seamless interface and system integration.



Future outlook for the industry and from a company perspective.

India has an operational metro rail network of about 300 km, 90 per cent of this network has come up across four cities in the last 10 years. Rapid urbanisation will drive demand for more and more metro rail systems in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities. With our inherent capabilities, talent, experience and growing track record, we are well positioned to ride this metro wave by providing the most optimal solutions.

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