Project Management Institute

Miracles do happen





PICTURE THIS: A railway project in Mumbai, India has been planned with three objectives:

1. Break down and rebuild a stone bridge

2. Extend the length of four rail platforms

3. Make space for another track

And this is all to be accomplished with minimal interruption to rail service and in just two days. (Yes, 48 hours.)

India is a fabulous land where things do get done, just not very quickly. The country is like a lumbering elephant that ambles along—but please, no pushing or nudging. Slowly but surely, we reach our destination, with the operative word being slowly.

Needless to say, the aggressive plan for the Masjid station project was audacity personified, even by Western (or any advanced country's) standards.

The train station lies about 1.5 kilometers (roughly 1 mile) from Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus in central Mumbai. The first stop en route from the terminus, it became extremely congested, even in a city quite accustomed to big crowds. Complicating matters even more, the station had only one entrance: a ramp to an arched stone bridge built in 1868. With the railway deciding to switch to alternating current, the height of the bridge had to be increased per Indian law.

Local trains had also been lengthened by three cars, and Masjid became the only station in the network with platforms so short that trains were forced to halt twice on each trip. And the platforms couldn't be increased because the stone bridge stood in the way.

With the station's close proximity to the terminus, six tracks were not enough for the ever-burgeoning rail traffic. Another track was desperately needed to reduce delays and ease the burden on the network. But retaining walls on both sides of the station left very little space for laying a seventh track. It could only be possible if every existing track was realigned.

Window of Opportunity

Work on the project would have to either be done in phases or rail traffic had to be suspended. In the Mumbai area, stopping rail traffic is akin to sacrilege—80 long-distance trains pass through Masjid station every day. Adding to that, local trains arrive and depart every two minutes during peak times.

But the team spotted an opening. In India, 15 August is Independence Day and a national holiday. It happened to fall on a weekend last year, so there was a window from 10:30 p.m. on Friday the 14th to 10:30 p.m. on Sunday the 16th. During this 48-hour period, all rail traffic would be suspended—a first in the 157-year history of Indian Railway.



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My CEO always told me that to be a good project manager, you must be an entrepreneur. I took that seriously and started my own part-time business. And I discovered that to be a good entrepreneur requires a lot of project management experience.

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A.K. Sachan, the railway's chief engineer, was designated the project manager. He and his team set in motion the gigantic, once-in-a-lifetime project.

In “normal” conditions, Mr. Sachan says the project would have taken one year to execute. The other option would have been to work in 12-hour blocks on the weekends. Instead, the team opted to telescope the schedule to 48 hours “with a common-sense approach and last-detail planning,” he explained.

That planning took more than a year. All the necessary civil contracts were awarded in plenty of time as well. In fact, Mr. Sachan says contractors went out of their way to accommodate the grueling schedule without any demands that could have resulted in cost escalation.

The first objective was to bring down the bridge. Working in tandem, the project team would also extend the platforms, and realign the tracks and signaling systems. The logistics were hashed out with military precision. Every minute had to be accounted for. There could be no room for surprises, as these would eat into the time allowed.

Two hundred laborers—both skilled and unskilled— worked per shift, with six shifts in all. Carrying on the fine tradition of Indian ingenuity for finding suitable workarounds, Mr. Sachan and his team barked out orders by tapping into the station's public address system so everyone could hear instructions clearly.

The project also involved seven excavators and 18 gas cutters to remove 1,070 cubic meters (37,787 cubic feet) of debris and 125 tonnes of steel. To save time, the team strategically placed wagons directly under the old bridge, so muck and debris could fall right into them. In the end, 40-some wagons were filled.


Jacob Zachariah, PMP, is a systems manager at the State Bank of India, a Fortune 500 organization in Mumbai, India. He's also involved in people skills training.

“All the processes of project management—namely scope, time, cost, quality, risk, human relations, communication, procurement and project integration—were visited during this project,” says Mr. Sachan. “The greatest satisfaction for me was two-fold: All the objectives were met within 48 hours, and secondly, equally important, there were no casualties, major or minor.”

Most incredibly, all of the objectives were actually met before the deadline. The project was declared complete and handed over to the operational staff at 9:30 p.m., one hour ahead of schedule. The first train entered Masjid station at 11:25 p.m. that night.

To me, this was a perfect case for project management. Who says elephants can't dance? PM

RAISE YOUR VOICE No one knows project management better than you, the practitioners “in the trenches.” So PM Network launched its Voices on Project Management column. Every month, project managers will share ideas, experiences and opinions on everything from sustainability to talent management, and all points in between. If you're interested in contributing, please send your idea to [email protected]

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