The railway’s Lalitpur-Satna-Rewa-Singrauli rail line project is expected to reach its final destination in March next year, but only after a delay of 202 months, or over 16 years, a flash report prepared by the government’s Infrastructure and Project Monitoring Division showed. However, the Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla (USBRL) project has recorded a maximum delay (255 months, or 20 years and 15 months), but that time period is insignificant considering the exceptional circumstances of militancy and terrorism in the region.

These are two of the 848 delayed projects out of the 1,820 projects being monitored. Each of these projects costs ₹150 crore or more. Out of the projects being monitored, 56 are ahead of schedule, 618 are on schedule, 431 projects reported cost overruns, and 268 projects reported both time and cost overruns concerning their original project implementation schedules. The average time overrun for these 848 delayed projects is 36.59 months.

Because of the delay, the anticipated completion cost is over 18.5 per cent higher than the original cost. According to the report, it has also been observed that project agencies are not reporting revised cost estimates and commissioning schedules for many projects, which suggests that time and cost overrun figures may be underreported, which means the final figure of cost and time overrun could be higher.

USBRL project

Though the report has not given specific reasons for the delay in completion of Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla, a written answer by Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw in the Lok Sabha during the winter session said that out of the total 272 km of the project, 161 km have already been commissioned. The work on the Katra-Banihal (111 km) section has been taken up. The anticipated (revised) cost of the project is over ₹37,000 crore, out of which over ₹34,000 crore has already been spent. The original cost, as mentioned in the flash report, was ₹2,500 crore.

“The USBRL project is, perhaps, the most difficult new railway line project undertaken in the country post-independence. The terrain passes through the young Himalayas, which are full of geological surprises and numerous problems,” he said. Over 97 km of 111 km of length in the Katra-Banihal section are tunnels, with the longest one (T49) being 12.77 km, which will be the longest transportation railway tunnel in the country. “Railway has bulit the world’s highest railway bridge over the Chenab River in Reasi District of Jammu & Kashmir. The iconic Chenab Bridge is 1315 m long, with an arch span of 467 m and a height of 359 m above the river bed. Indian Railway’s first cable-stayed bridge has been constructed over AnjiKhad. Its bridge deck is 331m above the river bed level, and the height of its main pylon is 193m,” Vaishnaw said.

Generic reasons

Meanwhile, the flash report has listed 16 reasons for delays. These include delays in land acquisition, delays in obtaining forest and environmental clearances, a lack of infrastructure support & linkages, delays in the tie-up of project financing, law and order problems, geological surprises, inadequate manpower, environment-related litigation, and State-wise lockdown due to Covid-19, among others.

“The concerned administrative ministry may like to review the projects in order to avoid further cost and time overruns, to firm up milestones in case milestones are is not available, and to firm up revised cost estimates and revised commissioning schedules if the same have not been revised and lapsed,” the flash report said.