The pace of work on the ₹80,000-crore freight corridor project has picked up even as it faces some land acquisition challenges. The project has seen massive mobilisation of equipment, including some being used for the first time. The corridor will also see a shift of 70 per cent of freight traffic from Indian Railways, creating enormous capacity, Adesh Sharma, MD, Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Ltd (DFCCIL), told BusinessLine. Edited excerpts

What is the current status of the project?

In a mega infrastructure project, which is linear in nature, land acquisition is the biggest challenge. In the Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC), land acquisition has reached 84 per cent in the Eastern and Western corridor – 79 per cent in the Eastern corridor and 88 per cent in the Western corridor. The remaining 16 per cent will depend on the new land acquisition Act. The rate for compensation has come into force with effect from January 1, 2015.

There are 1,042 court cases and 3,391 arbitration cases pending as on date, as land-losers have moved to court against the compensation. These cases are being pursued vigorously by us for early finalisation. But due to this, land is not available in 144 patches, affecting a length of 245 km in the Eastern corridor and 296 patches affecting a length of 113 km in the Western corridor. The major issues with land are in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, Maharashtra and Gujarat.

The finalisation of balance contracts in consultation with lending agencies is another challenge.

How is the pace of work?

The pace of work has accelerated manifold in the last six months in both corridors. Earlier, in the Khurja-Kanpur stretch of the Eastern corridor, we used to spend about ₹30 crore a month. Now, this is up to ₹100 crore a month. Between Rewari and Palanpur (625-km), work is in full swing. We have started daily monitoring of projects. When I started, earthwork progress was 5,000 cubic metres a day, now it is 80,000 cubic metres a day.

How was this made possible?

We expedited design clearances by pursuing with contractor, project management consultant as well as with Zonal Railways. Also, a thorough review of mobilisation of resources was done. We sought a list of the machinery deployed by the contractors and asked them to deploy two times the machinery deployed at present for timely completion of the project. We gave them one month time to scale up. Today, on earthwork and concreting, they have more than 100 excavators working in each corridor, about 500-700 tippers per contract, 16 mobile batching plants, 80 transit mixers. About 800 technical skilled labourers for bar-bending and shuttering are deployed.

What is the target for operations?

Based on the land acquisition status and the contracts position, both the corridors will be completed by December 2019. The Minister has directed phase commissioning of DFC, which has been accordingly planned.

So, the Khurja-Kanpur stretch will be operational by March 2018; Durgawati-Sasaram during the current fiscal, Mughalsarai-Sonnagar by December 2017 and Kanpur to Mughlsarai by December 2018. In the Western corridor, Rewari-Iqbalgarh will be done by June 2018, Iqbalgarh-Vadodara by March 2019. By December 2019, every portion of DFCCIL will be complete.

When will revenues start trickling in?

The full revenue will start after completion of Eastern and Western corridors, but utilisation will start from phase commissioning. We will start getting revenue through track access charges. But full revenues will start coming in after significant lengths of tracks are complete. Multimodal logistics parks and private freight terminals will be developed on the DFC route, which will give additional assured traffic to DFCC.

Have the track access charges been defined?

These are on the verge of finalisation. A committee is working on it for the last one year. It should be finalised in the next three months. The track access charge will have two components — fixed and variable.

Given the cross-subsidisation of Indian Railways between freight and passenger traffic, and given that the Railways is dependent on freight revenues, how much traffic will DFC get?

According to the concession agreement with the Railways, at least 70 per cent of the existing freight traffic on their track that is running on the same alignment as DFC will be transferred to our tracks. So, after diversion of freight traffic from existing routes, additional capacity will be available for introducing additional trains.