Exclusive Interview with Siddharth Chatterjee, Head of Structure Department at WSP Louis Berger India

Rail Vikas Nigam Limited (RVNL) has spearheaded the implementation of the construction of the new 125 km long Broad-Gauge railway line from Rishikesh to Karnaprayag in the State of Uttarakhand in India.

Mr Siddharth Chatterjee
Mr Siddharth Chatterjee

Metro Rail News Managing Editor Mr. Narendra Shah conducted an email interview with Mr. Siddhartha Chatterjee, Principal Engineer (HOD) at Louis Berger India Pvt. Ltd. During this conversation, Mr. Chatterjee shared the journey and its prospects. Here’s the edited excerpt:

Q.01. Tell us something about the project – BG Rail Link between Rishikesh to Karnaprayag (Package 3) that you are leading for Louis Berger?

Rail Vikas Nigam Limited (RVNL) has spearheaded the implementation of the construction of the new 125 km long Broad-Gauge railway line from Rishikesh to Karnaprayag in the State of Uttarakhand in India. This new rail link will facilitate vastly improved mobility and connectivity for the residents of the State, in particular for those living in the mountainous areas and for those visiting the State for tourism and religious purposes. As you are aware, the new rail line will also cover the area known as “Char Dham” – the four highly sacred temples. The design and construction of the new line is being implemented in eight packages. Louis Berger SAS in a consortium with lead partner Geodata has designed the 14.263km long section of the line included in Package 3 and is presently supervising the construction of the same. This package includes over 9km of tunnels and 4 bridges  (Bridge nos. 4 to 7). Of these, we have showcased “Bridge No. 6” in Bentley’s “The 2021 Going Digital Awards in Infrastructure”.

Q.02. What makes the project so unique and challenging, as we have heard about it on many occasions?

This project is unique and challenging in many ways –

  1. It includes one of the longest railway steel truss bridges in India.
  2. The project is located near the fault zone of the Himalayan region. Location wise it falls under the most critical seismic zone V as per the Indian seismological map. The near-fault effect is further assessed through a Site-specific Response spectrum. This has further enhanced the magnitude of the seismic force for design. 
  3. There is very limited space available closer to the abutments to carry out bridge launching related activities. In addition, launching will be conducted over live traffic adjacent to abutments with very limited space.
  4. The steep and rugged mountainous terrain posed significant design challenges, especially foundations. Innovative bridge construction techniques had to be formulated.

Q.03. What, according to you, have been the biggest challenges before you in this project? What for you is the completion status of the project. Would you please tell us specifically? Is there any task that remains incomplete from your side that might cost any delays for the project?

The design of a steel truss bridge of 125m in a very high seismic zone in itself is a very challenging task. In addition, it is located in very difficult rugged terrain where construction is extremely challenging. Hence, developing designs suited to the rugged mountainous terrain with construction-friendly and innovative techniques was a major challenge.

As of date, the design of all project components is complete, and GFC drawings have been issued. As far as construction is concerned, foundation-related activities are ongoing at site along with fabrication of steel truss at fabrication yard.

With the design being completed and the construction of most foundations in progress, no cost escalation is foreseen.

Q.04. How important would this Rail Line Link be strategically for the country apart from tourism and Char Dham Yatra that it will certainly boost?

This new rail link between Rishikesh to Karnaprayag will undoubtedly boost tourism, and it will be a boon for people travelling for the ‘Char Dham Yatra’. In addition, it is significantly going to improve India’s strategic position in border areas because the rail link will provide a faster and more reliable mode of transport for the movement of goods and people.

Q.05. To what extent has your contribution towards the rail line link that is being developed strategically and economically important for the country? Is your work limited to designing and constructing of bridges and tunnels only for this project?

During the design stage, we endeavoured to develop optimum design solutions in terms of project cost, ease of construction, and the least possible impact on the environment, given the environmentally sensitive areas that the rail line will traverse. Our role is presently only for the design of all elements of the project, and subsequent project and construction management

Q.06. Which other major projects you are working upon of this magnitude and scale. Please tell us something about your company and your role in specific?

Louis Berger was founded in the United States in 1953 and, by December 2018, had grown into a US$ 1 billion global consulting engineering firm with over 6,000 staff worldwide. In December 2018, Louis Berger was fully acquired globally by WSP Global headquartered in Montreal, Canada. Today, we are therefore an integral part of WSP, with over CA$ 7.5 billion in annual revenues and over 55,000 professionals worldwide on six continents. WSP is ranked No. 1 in the world in transportation by ENR. 

Across the globe, we provide a wide range of services from concept and feasibility studies, design, project management and construction supervision often extending into the O&M stage across diverse sectors including Transportation (Highways, Bridges, Tunnels, Rail, Metro Rail, Light Rail, High-Speed Rail, Aviation, Ports), Property and Buildings, Industrial and Energy, and Environment. We are “Future Ready” and aim to bring “Solutions for a Better World”.

Some of the other landmark ongoing projects of WSP/Louis Berger in India are as follows: 

  • Mumbai Metro Line 3 (33km, fully underground)
  • Mumbai Metro Line 4 (30km, fully elevated)
  • Bhopal Metro & Indore Metro (60km in total, part elevated, part underground)
  • Versova Bandra Sea Link in Mumbai (17km of marine roadway bridges)
  • Mumbai Coastal Road with significant reclamation works, sea walls, complex interchanges and marine viaducts
  • Mumbai-Pune Expressway Missing Link with 11km of 4-lane twin tunnels and an iconic cable-stayed bridge of 350m main span
  • 9km long twin roadway Tunnels under River Brahmaputra in Assam

Q.07. Louis Berger is one of the well known global companies in the field of engineering, architecture, structural engineering etc. What had been your experience taking up a challenging Indian project as such? Do you feel need of any addl. Technological upgrade required at your part? 

Louis Berger has previously executed several rail, tunnel and bridge projects worldwide, including in challenging mountainous regions. This prior experience enabled Louis Berger to “hit the ground running” on this project, drawing on our experience and expertise across the globe. However, every project is unique in its own way and the present Rishikesh-Karanprayag project posed its own challenges, especially in terms of the high seismic zone and the difficulties anticipated with regard to construction, driving construction technique innovations. Therefore, this project has also been a learning experience, adding to our global knowledge database. With the acquisition of Louis Berger globally by WSP in December 2018, the experience database on similar projects has grown six to seven-fold. We seek continuous improvement, including the innovative use of newer technologies. We are working on introducing 5D BIM for smoother progress during construction on the present project.

Q.08. Is there any message you would like to give to our readers? 

At WSP/Louis Berger, we believe in being fully accountable and taking full ownership for the work that we execute on our projects. We understand the responsibility we must bear in the design and project/construction management of public-sector infrastructure works, especially using taxpayer funds in the most optimum manner. We believe in bringing our “Future Ready” approach to our designs and processes, factoring in aspects such as climate change into our designs. Above all, we stand for “zero tolerance” where Safety is considered, operate with the highest integrity and ethics, and work towards ensuring the best quality.

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