NYTimes.com Article: Clean, Modern Subway, Efficiently Built. In India?
Wed, 29 Jan 2003 16:14:25 -0500 (EST)
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Drat, just missed this by a few weeks. Definitely looking forward to seeing this.
I had no idea the Calcutta one was only a decade old -- I was there five years ago, and it already looked decades old :-)
It is an important marker of self-esteem, even if it is aid money...
Clean, Modern Subway, Efficiently Built. In India?
January 29, 2003
By DAVID ROHDE
NEW DELHI, Jan. 23 - The trains arrive with a whisper,
speak with a computerized voice and at times are driven by
women. Passengers board quickly and quietly at stations
that are clean and airy, with graceful 30-foot arched
ceilings and computerized entryways.
In a city of 14 million people that otherwise tends toward
controlled anarchy, it is a pride-inspiring marvel.
New Delhi's new $2 billion subway system, barely more than
a month old, is altering Indians' view of themselves and
For Shashi Brabha and Sohan Sing, two beaming college
students taking a ride purely for the pleasure of it, it
represents all that India can be. "It was good," a grinning
Ms. Brabha said after her first ride. "It was modern."
The Metro is not the first subway built in India -
Calcutta's decade-old system holds that honor - and the
full 62 mile, 90-station system will not be completed until
But already New Delhi's system is being hailed as a
political, managerial and engineering triumph. The first
five miles of the system opened on Dec. 24, on budget and
on time - a rarity in Indian public works projects.
Not least, over the last four and a half years, much of the
sprawling system has been built in, above and beneath some
of the most densely populated square miles on earth.
The success of the project, built with Japanese aid money,
has become a striking symbol of change in India. Hundreds
of thousands of people take what they call joy rides, short
trips to savor the efficiency, modernity and sense of
progress the new system seems to generate.
Tourists add it to their itinerary. Residents of outlying
communities drive in for a ride. Parents bring their
"You don't feel the speed," said Sugandha Salhan, a
10-year-old girl who marveled at the smooth ride.
Much of the credit for the project's success goes to a
70-year-old longtime public servant who oversaw it,
Elattuvalapil Sreedharan, an engineer who has been hailed
for maintaining zero tolerance for corruption and coming up
with innovative solutions to problems.
His success has indirectly bolstered the stand of Indians
who advocate the privatization of government-run industries
criticized for waste, poor service and fraud.
Instead of creating a ponderous bureaucracy, he
subcontracted most of the construction work, hiring top
Indian and foreign engineering firms. Of the 20,000 workers
involved in the project, only 400 are government employees.
Older Delhi-ites marvel that Metro workers do an
extraordinary thing for notoriously bureaucratic Indian
civil servants: they quickly respond to complaints.
In a feat of engineering, construction workers are building
almost seven miles of underground tunnels and nearly 32
miles of above-ground track without closing major roads.
Down the center of busy avenues, precast 50-ton blocks of
reinforced concrete are being fashioned into an overheard
track. Cranes lift sections at night when there is little
traffic. During the day, tens of thousands of cars speed
underneath as workers secure the track.
In four and a half years of construction, eight people have
died in accidents. The number is considered a measure of
success. One of those killed was an unlucky thief who tried
to steal braces holding up a concrete slab; it fell and
Much of the subway is being constructed in one of the most
densely populated places on earth, Old Delhi, a packed
warren of decrepit buildings and choked streets that
resembles a human petri dish. Lower Manhattan, by
comparison, seems like an open field.
Near Hauz Quazi Circle, where five roads meet and hundreds
of small stores sell every imaginable type of building
supply, one large building has been knocked down for the
construction of a subway station underground. Surrounding
the site on all sides, shops and apartment still teem with
Ninety feet below ground, a German-built boring machine is
carving out two-and-a-half-mile dual tunnels for the
trains. In other areas of the city, contractors closed down
one lane of a road, dug a trench up to 90 feet deep and
then covered it so the road could quickly reopen.
Owners of 38 shops demolished to make way for the station
complained that they were not being fairly compensated, but
more than a dozen businessman interviewed around the
construction all praised the project.
Shopkeepers pointed out steel girders erected to steady the
walls of nearby buildings and monitors that measure
vibrations. They said dump trunks haul dirt only at night
and crews wash down the streets before morning.
"How can you build something in an area like this?"
marveled Bharat Bhushan, whose hardware store sits on a
narrow lane in Old Delhi choked by wave after wave of
humanity. "It is exemplary."
Manoj Kumar, 21, a cigarette vendor whose kiosk is a few
feet from an overhead track, uttered not a word of
complaint about the dust, danger and inconvenience of the
sprawling project. Supporting it, he suggested, is a civic
duty. "This is good work," he said. "This is development.
This will be the pride of Delhi."
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