How to build a bridge into thin air

Citizens living within city limits often castigate BBMP and other local authorities for long delayed public works and amenities. The JP Nagar underpass is a classic case of BBMP’s inability to fix what has gone wrong and reach the finish line.

But it needs to go on record that India’s transportation giant, Indian Railways, arguably with far greater resources and expertise at its disposal, has recently been responsible for a disastrous project in Northeast Bangalore.

In response to a gridlocked railway level crossing at the Whitefield Railway Station in Kadugodi, the Railways responded in 2006 with an overbridge contract. The Railways runs one of the largest and busiest rail networks in the world, with a broad guage length of over 66,000 kms. For the Railways, a 42-metre overbridge over 25000-volt electrified lines ought to have been doable.

Not exactly. Enter 2010, both ramps of bridge terminate in thin air with an empty span of railway tracks between. Work has stopped. Traffic has multiplied, hurting everyone – pedestrians, commuters, and businesses – in the region.

What went wrong reads like a recipe for how not to build a bridge. This is cause for alarm, since more railway overbridges are likely to be needed around Bangalore.

1. Run the contract on archaic rules that peg milestone payments to fixed prices of steel and cement, even as the contractor has to buy these commodities in a fluctuating global market.

2. Ask the contractor to outsource the design to a consultant. Add several months of delay to the actual start of work. In the meantime, market prices will rise steeply, so that by the time the contractor starts work, costs would have overshot estimates.

3. Identify a contractor who does not have experience in the special kind of welding needed for the bridge’s steel girder.

4. Also, identify a contractor who does not have adequate cash resources or the ability raise fresh resources to handle substantial price hikes midway.

5. When contractor runs into cash shortage, cite archaic rules that do not permit re-negotiation midway at new rates and force the contractor to shell out the excess cash.

6. Rub salt into the wound. Revise the rules and peg payments to real market prices of commodities, but do this only for new contracts going forward. Leave running contracts in the lurch.

7. Two years into the delayed project, let the contractor ‘discover’ that there are only a few institutes in India to approve the specialised welding. Let the inspections happen months behind schedule and let approvals further delay the project, increasing costs further.

8. Deadlock. Work stops. Contractor is unable raise fresh funds. Terminate the contract, and float fresh tenders to identify a new contractor to finish. Another year (2009) comes to and end.

Seen in this light, it is actually more likely that ISRO’s plans of sending an Indian to the moon will hit the soil there sooner than the ill-fated Whitefield bridge will cross over 42 metres of air and six tracks underneath.

2 Comments

  1. For decades, we can see the great innovation of aircrafts. Well, for others, this thing doesn’t really matters. But for those who have passion, it matters a lot. I’ve seen a lot of airplane pictures on the net, books, tabloids, etc. but I can’t stop myself from being amazed. If history is any kind of judge, the suits in charge of the largest and most successful large corporations are either asleep or drunk at the wheel. We have the bailout crisis and the incompetence of the largest of financial institutions can’t manage money correctly and need payday loans from the taxpayers.

  2. Clear Summary of the whole sordid saga Subbu. How do we get someone accountable for this ridiculous situation? I was wondering if you could add one more item to your list. At the end of all this, it looks like the bridge will only be a 2 lane bridge on a 4 lane road. That is what is called a bottle neck, right? Wonder how that plan was approved?

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