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Bridging The Future – Chennai Metro Rail Project

May 29, 2012

I have a relatively long commute – 1.5 hours one-way – from home to the office everyday. One of the small things I enjoy in the car is to see the progress of the construction sites along the way.

An array of massive concrete columns is being stood up on the median of the road. Blocks of gigantic concrete plate are lifted and placed on top of the columns, making a long rail bed connecting the Chennai International Airport to the center of the city. I like to see its advancement bridging one column to another. City’s transportation system will drastically improve once completed by 2013 – if I believe the current project plan.

Hoover Dam, USA

Construction of the large concrete blocks reminded me of Hoover Dam in the US, one of the largest concrete structures in the world. The dam is located in the middle of deep desert canyons of the Colorado River, where Arizona borders with Nevada.

Leaving off the famous Route 66 (or I-40) at the city of Kingman, Arizona, US Route 93 goes gradual uphill in the desert. The road is almost straight and nothing is around for one hour, then you will have a spectacular sight of this large man-made object. It is so massive that you could almost feel the gravity from it.

If you continue on US-93 for another 15 minutes, you will see the neons of Las Vegas from the hilltop. In the past, this Route 93 went on the rim of the dam, which was too narrow and caused congestion to the through traffic. Today, there is a bypass with a 500-meter long arch bridge spanning over the deep Black Canyon.

Bypass Bridge and Henry Gantt

The bypass bridge, or Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, was constructed in 2005 to 2010 by a team of general construction companies, including Obayashi Corporation in Japan. At the foot of the bridge, you can find the gantt chart of the major project tasks and milestones inscribed on a metal plate. It is not a coincident that Hoover Dam was said to be the first major construction project used a gantt chart for the project management.

The gantt chart, developed by an American engineer, Henry Gantt, is a basic tool for the modern project management approach. In the IT industry where I belong to, the gantt chart is one of the must-have control documents to ensure on-time delivery of the project. It is more true for the large-scale projects like constructing a dam or a city transportation system, I assume.

Chennai Metro Rail Project

As one of the cities growing at the fastest speed in the world, Chennai has a huge number of on-going construction projects. The biggest one is the Chennai Metro Rail project, which will link the Airport to the city by connecting to existing transportation systems seamlessly. The line starts elevated at the airport and goes underground in the city, running on one of the Chennai’s main arteries, Anna Salai.

Constructions on the main roads have worsened the already overloaded traffic, but people know we need to sacrifice today’s convenience for greater future benefits. The question is how long we have to suffer. The project is scheduled to finish in 2013, but no gantt chart is available for the public and its progress is rarely disclosed. The modern project management approach is still not common in India. The approach is rather like: a task will be done when it is done – please do the needful. What I can tell for sure – even without a gantt chart – is that I will not have a chance to see the opening of Metro Rail before I leave Chennai.

Today’s Quote

‘About the time we can make the ends meet, somebody moves the ends’ by Herbert Hoover, the 31st President of the United States

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. velaithan permalink
    May 31, 2012 2:43 pm

    Great blog but lacks some details to the casual reader about Chennai metro rail project.

    • May 31, 2012 7:46 pm

      Thanks for your comment, velaithan. Yes, an introduction of the project would have been good. Thank you for reminding me of the basic rule of the communication – to put myself in the shoes of the audience. Much appreciated.

      – Shinobu

  2. Stephen permalink
    June 3, 2012 6:17 am

    Hi Shinobu, like you I too am in the business of Project Management – unlike you I actually try to do it in the Construction industry. In India Gantt charts are very common and are mostly obsolete as soon as they are printed. Part of the issue is that, for the average construction worker, the cultural belief in multiple lives plus the worry of not having a job when ‘this one’ is finished means there is no need/want to work quickly or efficiently. Also it seems to me that ‘doing what’s urgent rather than what’s important’ takes priority and this means planning and sticking to Gantt charts falls by the wayside.

    • June 4, 2012 6:35 pm

      Stephen, I was thinkig about you when I wrote this post. I bet you have gained expertise in the “Indian Way” project management, which still gives me surprises everyday. And yes, I’ve seen the same flexibility in the schedule and the priority, two key important factors that gantt chart try to fix. I’d love to learn from you how you actually manage the project (and not gone insane.)

      – Shinobu

  3. Elizabeth Avery permalink
    June 4, 2012 5:47 pm

    I think the redirected traffic on Anna Salai could be handled much better. Every block or two witnesses a change from one-way to two-way or lanes that can only be entered from certain other streets, or bus-only lanes (filled sometimes with other cars). The detours are so convoluted, I can barely convince an auto drive to cross it anymore and I’ve given up on going to T. Nagar maybe ever again (or at least until I really want a drink at Bike and Barrel). Last time I attempted to get to the Marriott, an auto driver got so flummoxed, he kicked me out and I couldn’t convince any auto drivers already in the bus line that they could take it all the way to the Marriott and so ended up walking a ways in the heat!

    • June 4, 2012 6:47 pm

      Elizabeth, why don’t you wait until the Metro Rail opens, and you don’t even need to take an auto to go anywhere in Chennai. I bet it will have the a/c so no need to walk in the heat, either! And maybe by then, our beloved Bike and Barrel will have started serving wider variety of beer.

      – Shinobu

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