Delhi subway’s alpha engineer reverses IST

A transportation expert penned an op-ed in the NY Post yesterday bemoaning that New Delhi is more efficient at building subways than New York:

New York is talking – again – about starting work on the 8-mile Second Ave. line. It’s budgeted at $17 billion and scheduled to take up to 16 years to complete…

New Delhi started from scratch in 1998 and now has 13 miles of rail line up and running. The system is due to grow to 40 miles by next June, as workers complete their jobs three years ahead of schedule. The cost of all this: $2.3 billion…

In contrast to Delhi’s count-every-minute attitude, New York officials have talked about a Second Ave. subway since the 1920s… If New Delhi can do it, why can’t New York?

Why not, indeed. Cast off the bureaucratic habits of our former overlords, oh Yankees! Delhi’s subway was built five times faster at one-third the cost (buying power-adjusted), for a 15x improvement in bang for the rupee. Who’s the Mr. Laajawab behind this feat?

New Delhi’s team is kept on schedule through the leadership of a 71-year-old engineer, E. Sreedharan, who is a legend in India for his ability to finish complex projects ahead of time and under budget…

Here’s how Sreedharan did it. One of his key innovations was turning to the bond market to independently finance the project. Another was his emphasis on organizational culture:

Sreedharan set another precedent — he raised public bonds. “After 36 years with the government and my experience in the railways, I knew the project would suffer for lack of funds, and so the public bonds…

“[M]oney will not get the right culture into the organisation. Technology and money won’t work without the basic human element. In the Metro railway project, my main emphasis is on punctuality and integrity.”


p>And a third was his elimination of construction kickbacks:

He assembled a motivated team of professionals–bypassing India’s notorious bureaucracy–and visited subway systems around the world for tips. And he completed the first line well within budget–unusual in Indian infrastructure projects–largely by cracking down on kickbacks. “The contractors are grateful not to have to give bribes to get a project,” says Sreedharan…

No kickbacks on a public construction project? He’s one up on New York. This Malayalee alpha engineer earned a Padmashree award for his feat, and Time Asia called him a hero. His first triumph was building a bridge, like the legendary crossing to Sri Lanka, at quad-speed:

The Pambam Bridge connecting the Rameshwaram Island with mainland Tamil Nadu snapped under lashing waves, sweeping away a passenger train, resulting in high fatalities. “The railways set a target of six months for restoring it, my boss moved it to three months and I was able to do it in 46 days,” he says with quiet pride.


p style=”margin-right: 0px”>He may carry a slide-rule in his pocket, but Mr. Elattuvalapil Sreedharan is hardcore! He joins the admittedly limited pantheon of efficient Indian civil servants including R.C. Sinha, the guy who built the six-lane Mumbai-Pune Expressway on time, under budget, and at half the cost of the private bid:

The Mumbai-Pune Expressway, which is Maharashtra’s pride and joy, happened due to the tireless effort of R C Sinha, a Maharashtra government bureaucrat who revolutionised not only the use of construction technology in India, but also the tendering and payment systems for the project… MSRDC built the Expressway at half the cost of the only private sector proposal…

[The government] has done its best to wreck the project’s viability… One of its first actions was to remove R C Sinha even before the project was completed.

4 thoughts on “Delhi subway’s alpha engineer reverses IST

  1. Have you guys seen this about the London underground? Seems like there was some desi talent behind this ode to the tube.

  2. Mr.Sreedharan’s art of Management has become a part and parcel of everyday life, be it at home, in the office or factory and in Government. In all organizations, where a group of human beings assemble for a common purpose irrespective of caste, creed, and religion, management principles come into play through the management of resources, finance and planning, priorities, policies and practice. Management is a systematic way of carrying out activities in any field of human effort. Management need to focus more on leadership skills, e.g., establishing vision and goals, communicating the vision and goals, and guiding others to accomplish them. It also assert that leadership must be more facilitative, participative and empowering in how visions and goals are established and carried out. Some people assert that this really isn’t a change in the management functions, rather it’s re-emphasizing certain aspects of management. Its task is to make people capable of joint performance, to make their weaknesses irrelevant, says the Management Guru Peter Drucker. It creates harmony in working together – equilibrium in thoughts and actions, goals and achievements, plans and performance, products and markets. It resolves situations of scarcity, be they in the physical, technical or human fields, through maximum utilization with the minimum available processes to achieve the goal. Lack of management causes disorder, confusion, wastage, delay, destruction and even depression. Managing men, money and materials in the best possible way, according to circumstances and environment, is the most important and essential factor for a successful management.