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Mumbai, India—One of the World's Most Crowded Cities—Is Getting Its First Subway



Overcrowding on Mumbai, India's above-ground rails is so extreme, it's often deadly. On average, seven commuters die each day, with more than 2,700 deaths in 2018. Relief is en route, with the state and central government sponsoring construction of a 33.5-kilometer (20.8-mile) subway—the city's first.

“There is a desperation,” Ashwini Bhide, managing director of the Mumbai Metro Rail Corp. (MMRC), the government's joint venture overseeing execution, told The Wall Street Journal. “It should have been done yesterday.”


—Ashwini Bhide, Mumbai Metro Rail Corp., to The Wall Street Journal

Now at the halfway point, the INR300 billion project has hit its stride and is set to be completed in 2021. In February, the team achieved its fifth of 32 planned tunnel breakthroughs, this one at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport station. Shortly after, the team completed another major milestone, this time completing tunnel work at the Sahar Road metro station. This project phase spanned more than five months and included the use of a tunnel boring machine to dig 692 meters (2,270 feet) to connect the station site to the city's underground rail.

But before the breakthroughs, the team first had to overcome stakeholder pushback, especially in securing land for construction. The 27-station track cuts underneath some of the world's most densely populated neighborhoods, the aforementioned airport and numerous religious buildings. Some residents are being relocated, while others are deeply concerned about whether the subterranean construction will damage buildings. To combat skepticism, Ms. Bhide has made efforts to communicate with the community to dispel misconceptions. She's placed ads, written magazine articles, held public meetings and taken journalists to work sites to curb misinformation.


At left, commuters and above-ground trains in Mumbai, India. Above, underground work on a rail line. Here, the tunnel boring machine at the Mumbai Metro Line 3 site.

With the project now in full swing, the massive undertaking is requiring upward of 8,000 laborers working 24-hour days. The goal is to finish the subway at a rate of 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) a month, with the help of seven, 360-foot (110-meter) boring machines. Even during monsoon season, a four-month period of heavy rains, the project team intends to press on with the help of more than 200 pumps to drain water.

To oversee project management, the MMRC team has partnered with a consortium including French engineering company Egis, Japanese consulting firm Padeco and U.S. engineering firm AECOM. But while the international teams bring necessary expertise, the mix can also create complications.

“Quality standards differ from country to country, as well as the approach to an underground project—not to mention team spirit,” Ashish Tandon, managing director of Egis in India, told the website Urban Utopia. To overcome these potential barriers, Egis has paired foreign experts who have highly specialized technical or project management knowledge with local employees who are familiar with the country's regulations. “The keys to success are communication and transparency.” —CJ Waity

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