Konkan Railway - A Lifeline on the West Coast and Joy to the Travellers

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Report and Pictures by Eugene Moodubelle
Bellevision media Network

02 January 2010: The Konkan Railway runs along the west coast of India from Mangalore in Karnataka to Mumbai through Goa. It is one of the most exciting routes that serves as a lifeline to the Konkan Coast and provides a scenic beauty of nature which the tourists and travellers can enjoy throughout the year. The Konkan Railway was constructed and is operated by the Konkan Railway Corporation.

Road transport was the only means of communication between the towns and villages and Mumbai. With its hills and valleys as well as rivers and streams, the terrain of the Konkan region having a direct link between Mangalore and Mumbai by a railway line seemed to remain a dream forever. However, the dream of the Konkan Railway could be realized due to the relentless efforts of Madhu Dandavate and George Fernandes, who were Railway Ministers at different times in the Central Government and were also the natives of the Konkan. They played a major role in the Konkan Railway project.

The beginning of the Konkan Railway can be traced to the construction of a line between Diva in Mumbai and Apta in Raigad district in 1966. During the tenure of Madhu Dandavate as the Railway Minister, this line was extended up to Roha in 1986, mainly to serve the industries located in the area. However, the link from Roha to Mangalore seemed to be a distant possibility.

In October 1984, the Ministry of Railways decided to take a final location engineering-cum-traffic survey for the west coastal portion from Mangalore to Madgaon - a total distance of 325 km. In March 1985, the railways decided to extend the scope of their survey to include the length of the west coast line extending from Madgaon to Roha. The Southern Railway was entrusted with this final location survey. The project report for this route was submitted to the Railway Ministry in 1988 and named it as the Konkan Railway after the coastline along which it runs.

The project gained impetus after George Fernandes became the Railway Minister in 1989. It was decided to constitute a separately incorporated railway company for the construction and operation of this railway line. Thus, on 19th July, 1990, the Konkan Railway Corporation Limited (KRCL) was incorporated as a public limited company under the Companies Act, 1956 and E. Sridharan, a senior railway official was appointed as its first Chairman and Managing Director. The company set itself a challenging target of five years to complete the work - something that had never been achieved in India before for a project of this magnitude. The foundation stone for the project was laid at Roha on 15th September 1990.

With a total number of over 2,000 bridges and 91 tunnels to be built through this mountainous terrain containing many rivers, the project was the biggest and perhaps most difficult railway undertaking during this century, at least in this part of the world. Finally, to the amazement of disbelieving Indians, the project was completed in a mere 8 years time.

A major challenge in the area was land acquisition. But though land related lawsuits are common in the Konkan, when KRCL began persuading people to give up property that had belonged to their families for generations being convinced of the importance of the Konkan Railway, many of them voluntarily gave up their land for this project. Amidst all the controversies and problems dogging the project, work continued relentlessly, and in March 1993, the southernmost section of 47 kilometres of the railway line between Thokur and Udupi in Karnataka was inaugurated. This was followed by the northernmost section of 47 kilometres between Roha and Veer in Maharashtra in June 1993. The service was extended by 51 kilometres from Veer to Khed in March 1995 and by a further 265 kilometres from Khed to Sawantwadi Road in December 1996. Services on the southern end were extended by 32 kilometres from Udupi to Kundapura in January 1995, and by further 275 kilometres till Pernem in Goa in August 1997.

The through services between Mumbai and Mangalore continued to remain on hold due to a problematic tunnel at Pernem, which was facing repeated cave-ins and flooding. The tunnel was finally completed in January 1998, six years after its construction had started. Through services on the line began after a formal inauguration of the entire stretch of 740 kilometres from Roha to Thokur on 26th January 1998. Trains carrying passengers started running along the full route between Mumbai and Mangalore from May 1998. Realising the capabilities of Mr. Sridharan and the way how he efficiently handled the Konkan Railway Project he was asked to take up the responsibility of the construction of the Delhi Metro Project in 1997.

The magnitude and difficulties in the construction of the Konkan Railway can be understood by the following statistics: Total length-760 kilometres, bridges-1,798 (major - 168; minor - 1,630), tunnels-92 tunnels totalling 83 km to bore, (longest 6.5 km). In fact Konkan Railway is an Indian triumph in many areas: engineering, efficiency, innovation, economy, speed, environmental awareness, public relations, aesthetics and service.

Several trains, which earlier took circuitous routes, were diverted via the Konkan Railway, leading to a reduction in running time. The first of these was the Mumbai-Kochi Netravati Express, which was diverted via the Konkan Railway from 1st March 1998, followed by the Rajdhani Express to Trivandrum from 1st April 1998. The Mumbai-Mangalore Express named the ‘Matsyaganda’ was flagged off on 1st May 1998. The Matsyaganda Express is a daily train running between Lokmanya Tilak
Terminus (Kurla, Mumbai) and Mangalore Central Terminus. Matsyaganda literally means "Fragrance or Smell of Fish" - the appellation was given since the train runs along the fishing coast of Western India adjoining the Arabian Sea. The Delhi-Kochi Mangala Express was diverted on the route from 1st August 1998. At present, 86 passenger services operate each week in either direction.

For travellers and tourists, the journey through the Konkan Railway is an experience of life time. During any part of the year the travellers can enjoy the bounty of nature, though the monsoon season provides the best scenery throughout the journey.

The Konkan Railway had an excellent record of safety till the first major accident on the line occurred on the night of 22nd June 2003, when a landslide caused an express train travelling from Karwar to Mumbai to derail at the entrance to a tunnel. Fifty-one people died as a result of the accident, and several others were injured.

Though adequate measures were adopted to avert any such accidents, barely a year later, these measures were found to be inadequate when a second major accident occurred on the line on 16th June 2004. The Matsyaganda Express bound to Mumbai from Mangalore derailed and fell off a bridge after colliding with boulders on the tracks, killing 14 people.

Konkan Railway has been the most preferred route for travellers from and to Mumbai among the residents of the different cities, towns and villages of the Konkan region. However, the railway stations being quite far away from the towns and cities, passengers have to shell out additional amount of money to reach their residences. In spite of these factors, most of the people prefer to travel by the Konkan Railway as the fares are comparatively cheaper, journey safer and comfortable and sightseeing through the windows of the trains more appealing and enjoyable.

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Comments on this Article
Vinay Dabholkar, Bangalore Fri, January-15-2010, 3:06
Thanks for this post. The photos are terrific! One trivia: the first plan for Konkan railway dates back to 1882. Also A B Walawalkar is considered "the father of konkan railway" project. He released his project plan in 1952. This info is available at the Indian railways in Postal Stampssite(www.irfca.org/articles/vikas/stamps.html). Also story of konkan railway by E Sreedharan is a great link. http://www.scribd.com/doc/24665577/The-Story-of-Toughest-Konkan-Railways-Project-India-by-Its-Project-Director-E-Shreedharan
ajith, ninjoor Sun, January-3-2010, 5:36
very nice photo
deog, kanarady/mangalore Sun, January-3-2010, 5:46
Excellent photographs,Eugine. I envy your photographic skill or perhaps your camera!.Good coverage too.
Sunil Dsouza, Moodubelle Sat, January-2-2010, 1:39
Amazing photos, beautiful article by Eugene.
Anitha, Manipura Sat, January-2-2010, 10:47
Its really amazing @ Unbelivable that this is my home town. The picturs are so beutifull .
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