The Konkan Railway was the missing link between Maharashtra capital, Mumbai, and Mangalore. The 741-kilometre line connects Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka States — a region of criss-crossing rivers, plunging valleys and mountains that soar into the clouds.
The Konkan is a coastal strip of land bounded by the Sahyadri hills on the east, and Arabian Sea on the west. It is a land where mythology breathes side by side with economic growth, a land with rich mineral resources, dense forest cover and a landscape fringed with paddy, coconut and mango trees. The formidable terrain to be conquered and the short construction period meant that the project could only be completed with the help of several technological innovations.
Apart from setting a trend for other infrastructure projects in the country, the Konkan Railway provides concrete proof of the skills of Indian engineers, their discipline, team spirit and courage. But it is also a tribute to the unconquerable human spirit. Beyond the technical jargon, it was a leap of faith that made the long cherished dream of the people of the region possible. The Konkan Railway has also in a way changed the lives of the Engineers and other people associated with the project. For them it was the glory of overcoming all odds, and the satisfaction and pride that they have built something for posterity. The completion of the Konkan Railway was a “tryst with destiny” for many people in the Konkan region, redeemed in the 50th year of the nation’s Independence. It is hence entirely fitting that the first train on the completed track was flagged off on January 26, 1998, Republic Day.
A train negotiating a long bridge between two hills
A train entering Chiplun Railway Tunnel
Until the Konkan Railway started its operations, the two important port cities Mangaluru and Mumbai were not directly connected by the railway network. People would travel by trains running through inland India via Bengaluru-Belagavi-Pune route. In mid twentieth century, people travelling to Mumbai from Mangaluru and adjoining areas would go to Kadur or Birur by bus and then catch a train to Mumbai (Bombay then). In the 1970s National Highway 17 (NOW NH-66) was built to connect these cities by road. Direct bus services started between these two cities after the construction of NH-17. Even though economic reasons provided a strong need to connect these two cities, the region through which the railway track passed was geographically very tough and would be an engineering challenge. Due to the uneven terrain of the region, railway lines were not laid for many years.
Although the brainchild of veteran parliamentarian from Ratnagiri, Nath Pai M.P., national leaders such as Madhu Dandavate and George Fernandes, who hailed from the Konkan played a major role in the conception of Konkan Railway. In 1966, a line was constructed between Diva in Mumbai and Panvel in Raigad district. During the tenure of Madhu Dandavate, this was extended up to Roha in 1986, mainly to serve the industries located in the area. At the same time, works on Mangalore-Thokur line took impetus. However, the missing link from Roha to Mangaluru still remained. In October 1984, the Ministry of Railways decided to take a final location engineering-cum-traffic survey for the west coastal portion from Surathkal to Madgaon – a total distance of 525 km. In March 1985, the railways decided to extend the scope of their survey to include the omitted length of the west coast line extending from Madgaon to Roha. The Southern Railway was entrusted with this final location survey. They submitted the project report for this route to the Railway Ministry in 1988 and named it as the Konkan Railway after the coastline along which it
The project gained impetus after George Fernandes became the Railway Minister in 1989. It was decided to constitute a separately incorporated railway company for the construction and operation of the line. Thus, on 19 July 1990, the Konkan Railway Corporation Limited (KRCL) was incorporated as a public limited company under the Companies Act, 1956, with its headquarters at CBD Belapur in Navi Mumbai and E. Sreedharan, a senior railway official, as its first Chairman and Managing Director. The company set itself a challenging target of five years to complete the work – something that had never been achieved in India before for a project of this magnitude. The foundation stone for the project was laid at Roha on 15 September 1990, and the Corporation had its task cut out.