05 June 2020

Interaction- S V Desai, Executive Vice President & Head – Heavy Civil Infrastructure IC, L&T Construction

L&T is driving the metro boom in India and overseas

L&T has established itself as the foremost builders of metro rail systems in India and is presently executing 10 projects across various cities in India and 3 mega projects overseas. S V DESAI, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT & HEAD – HEAVY CIVIL INFRASTRUCTURE IC, L&T CONSTRUCTION shares his views with CONSTRUCTION OPPORTUNITIES about the present scenario and the opportunities in the offing in the metro space.



Give us an update on the metro rail projects your company is currently involved in, their current status, scope of work and cost, timeline for completion?

L&T Construction, the construction arm of Larsen & Toubro, the $17 billion dollar technology, engineering, construction and manufacturing conglomerate, has emerged as the foremost builders of metro rail systems in the country. Presently, we are executing 10 projects across various Indian cities in addition to three mega projects overseas – the Riyadh and Doha Metros, both as part of consortiums featuring globally renowned players in this space and the Light Rail Transit system in Mauritius. Some important projects presently under construction include metros at Mumbai, Chennai, Lucknow and Ahmedabad while some of the major domestic projects already commissioned include metro packages in Delhi, Chennai, Lucknow and Kochi. The Hyderabad Metro is the largest project in a PPP (Public Private Partnership) mode, a major portion of which has been operationalized.



Going forward what are the opportunities you are seeking in the metro space? Tell us of the metro projects in which you are looking to contribute and your strategy to tap those going forward?

With a burgeoning urban population and rapid urbanization, metro rail systems offer one of the best solutions for urban mobility. The advantages of metros are manifold: higher capacity carriers, lower energy consumption as compared to road based systems (20 per cent per passenger Km), low ground space occupation (2-3 m for elevated metros), faster hence reduces journey time by 50-75 per cent, reduction in daily vehicle demand with people shifting to metros for commuting and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

The Government of India’s New Metro Policy 2017 mandates a comprehensive mobility plan to provide seamless integration between various modes of urban transportation. It has made PPP essential for the implementation of metro projects in cities, in case that particular state government is desirous of availing financial assistance from the Centre. This has, unfortunately, led to the deferment of a few metro projects in FY 17-18 resulting in a slowdown in the sector but once the policy is adopted and synced, we foresee a spurt of projects like Delhi Metro Phase 4, Chennai Metro Phase 2, Kanpur Metro, Agra Metro, Mumbai Metro Line 5, among others. The Union Government aims to invest more than Rs.1 lakh crore for the construction of metro systems across various cities over the next 5-7 years. Even on the international front, we expect investments to the tune of Rs.2-3 lakh crores in the South East Asia and Middle East markets and with our capabilities and credentials, we are well-placed to avail off these opportunities.



Please details us regards to the challenges faced and how you have overcome themin metro rail construction.

Metro rail construction faces a whole host of challenges perhaps the most critical being the shortage of skilled manpower. To address this issue, we have established Construction Skills Training Institutes (CSTI) where workers are periodically trained and skilled to take up important tasks at site. Non-availability of RoW (Right of Way), constraints in land acquisition, delays in procuring statutory clearances. Environmental approvals, material availability and rate fluctuations are some of the other challenges.

Traffic congestion, especially when working in the heart of teeming cities, is another huge speed breaker for which a comprehensive traffic diversion plan has to be drawn up to minimize traffic interference and plan major logistic requirements at off-traffic hours. Utility diversion is yet another stumbling block and interaction with local authorities is critical to devise optimal solutions and early initiation for approvals of design and construction methods. Finally, there is the threat of increased competitiveness with the entry of several new players into the sector.



Key learning’s from your experience and how they can be applied to the forthcoming projects?

With our experience and expertise garnered over a period of almost two decades, we have identified several factors that impact our cost and time schedules some of which have been enumerated above and have evolved mitigation strategies to resolve them. Our continued success across projects and our ability to deliver projects on time and to quality are testimony of the unquestionable quality of our systems and processes.



What are the key differences between metros in other countries compared to India?

International metro projects involve larger scale and therefore are of higher contract value; they seek far more stringent technical and financial qualifications from contractors to minimize risk to the employer and ensure timely completion; they lay greater emphasis on technology-led construction processes and they also involve higher risk. While overseas metro projects are largely public-funded, in India, the new metro policy mandates the PPP mode for assistance from the Centre. RoW is not a major issue abroad but the projects are faced with higher cost of resources – labour and material. Mega international projects with scope from concept to commissioning require a consortium of companies with diverse expertise and are mostly governed by Europeans/American/British standards while domestic projects are governed by Indian standards.



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

The Government of India is keen to improve the business environment in the country reflected in the unprecedented jump of India to the 100th position in the ease of doing business which is largely attributable to its far-reaching economic reforms. All construction projects require umpteen number of statutory approvals and clearances by various authorities hence the introduction of a single window for clearing all these approvals will definitely pave the way for better planning and faster execution. The shortage of skilled manpower is a pressing issue and the Government has to take more concrete steps to supplement our efforts towards substantially increasing skilled manpower. There is also the need to size projects properly (high contract value and scope) which will enable better optimization of resources and minimizing the cost of construction.



Future outlook for the industry and from a company perspective.

Rapid urbanization, rising traffic population and the growing clamour against global warming have helped project metro rail systems as a quicker, safer, more reliable, more economic and greener mode of urban travel which augurs well for the sector. The government’s focus on the sector is another reason why we are cautiously optimistic of sustained growth going forward. The future certainly looks bright and as the foremost builders of metro rail systems in the country we are well-positioned to avail off the rising opportunities.



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

L&T is a one-stop solution for executing a metro project: right from geotechnical, to design and construction of the civil structures, to track laying, electrification and signaling and telecom solutions. With incremental launching, full span ‘U’ girders to fast track erection of superstructures in elevated metro projects, we deploy the best of technologies such as under-slung LG, over-slung LG, movable winch LG, hinged LG, twin box LG, continuous span LG etc. depending upon the type of span, work area available and time and cost requirements of the project. A host of modern technologies have been adopted for underground metro alignments such as conventional Drill & Blast Method (DBM), the New Austrian Tunneling Method (NATM), Tunnel Boring Machines (TBM) and soft tunneling using road headers.

As pioneers, we implement precast technology to standardize the quality and accelerate the speed of construction both in sub and superstructures for the construction of both viaducts and stations. Except for cast in situ foundations and pillars, almost 80 - 85 per cent of metro construction is with precast elements. We use precast technology extensively for underground construction too.

We have implemented 3D & 5D BIM (Building Information Modeling) technology in our projects to reduce clashes, avoid rework and improve interface management during project execution. Apart from BIM, several other digital initiatives have been adopted to improve productivity, project management, safety, engineering, procurement, execution and thereby reduce costs and increase efficiency.

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