Go Back

Built Differently

In Focus
NAME:Santosh Kumar Jha
COMPANY:Konkan Railway
POSITION:Chairman & Managing Director
LOCATION:Mumbai, India
Fewer rail terrains are as challenging as the Western Ghats of India. As Chairman and Managing Director of Konkan Railway, Santosh Kumar Jha has overcome the terrestrial challenges to connect the south-western states. 

A veteran of operations and management, Santosh Kumar Jha already understood the challenges of the Konkan Railway Corporation and the factors that make it wholly unique when he became Chairman and Managing Director. It’s this deep-rooted knowledge that has helped him elevate the rail network above industry norms.

“Konkan Railway, if you compare it with similar-sized divisions of Indian Railways, is operating at one-third of the manpower, making it three times more efficient,” he tells The CEO Magazine.

“There’s a huge business opportunity of constructing metro systems, supplying metro coaches, electrifying and signaling of the entire metro system.”

Konkan Railway was a project envisioned in the late 90s, taking seven years to complete. The 740-kilometer stretch includes 91 tunnels, over 2,000 bridges, frequent embankments and high cuttings. The region also sees heavier rainfall than the national average, making the rail network a true engineering marvel.

Before joining Konkan Railway, Jha worked in various public sector undertakings (PSUs), including the Container Corporation of India (CONCOR). After taking over operations, Jha built on the institutional knowledge of the staff and quickly addressed the bottlenecks.

A Unique Trail

First, Konkan Railway needed to shift from a passenger-heavy network to freight in order to subsidize operations.

“I ran a lot of aggressive marketing and met the stakeholders and container operators who could divert the road traffic to rail,” Jha explains. “In two-and-a-half years, two major container rail terminals started functioning at Ratnagiri and Khed, and one inland container depot was commissioned at Balli, Goa.”

Jha leveraged his connections at CONCOR to turn around container transport in the Konkan region. Next, he secured bauxite cargoes in the region that were being transported via road. Consequently, Konkan Railway moved 63 rakes of bauxite in the 2022–2023 financial year.

After that, he struck a deal with Central Warehousing Corporation to create 23,200 square meters of warehousing. The improvement in cross-traffic revitalized freight business in the Konkan region. But perhaps the most substantial step taken by Jha is to expedite the electrification of Konkan Railway.

“Plasser India has maintained a long-standing partnership with Konkan Railway for over 30 years, supplying and servicing a fleet of high-performance track maintenance machines. These machines are employed for various purposes, including track-laying, tamping, ballast cleaning, ballast distributing and profiling, as well as stabilization and consolidation. We remain committed to working together to enhance the efficiency of railway infrastructure.” – Siegfried Fink, Managing Director, Plasser India


“We ramped it up in 2022 and now the entire 740-kilometer range of Konkan Railway is fully electrified,” Jha reveals. “First, it saves us almost US$24 million per annum on fuel costs. Number two is that we’re now a completely eco-friendly railway. Lastly, it is now connected to pan-India, so a locomotive change is not required at Konkan.”

Jha’s steps have been decisive, fast and forward-thinking. He not only solved the issues holding Konkan Railway back but also leveraged its strength to generate additional revenue. From constructing the tallest and longest-spanning railway bridge of its type in the world over the Chenab River, to building the first cable-stayed bridge connecting Katra and Reasi in the Himalayan territory – Konkan’s project execution capabilities are unparalleled.

In Kerala, Konkan’s staff are now connecting Vizhinjam port with the Southern Railway and building road tunnels between Wayanad and Kozhikode.

Jha is also proactively bidding for metro projects in New Zealand, Argentina and the Middle East. In fact, the metro is one avenue where he sees great potential for Konkan Railway in India.

“At present, only 15 cities have metro trains. As per the new metro policy, Indian cities with a population of one million must have a metro system,” he says. “There are 46 cities already identified for the metro system, so there’s a huge business opportunity in constructing metro systems, supplying metro coaches, electrifying and signaling the entire metro system.”

Rolling Ambition

Add in the project management consultancy wing of Konkan Railway and the PSU looks set for a healthy bottom line. The financial year 2022–2023 was its best turnover year, exceeding US$600 million. By 2027, Jha aims to double that.

But it’s not a smooth ride. To keep winning and executing mega projects, Konkan Railway has to increase capital expenditures, and Jha has to keep convincing the stakeholders for more investments. Connecting the hilly areas of Western Ghats to ports and pan-India networks requires constant innovation and management expertise.

“The challenge for me is to maintain these growth runs with time but the big ticket money will come only from mega projects. We are doing regular inspections and investments on maintenance blocks and integrated blocks. We are aligned with what the ministry says.”

“The challenge for me is to maintain these growth runs with time but the big ticket money will come only from mega projects.”

Konkan Railway requires an army of suppliers to make everything happen. Jha breaks down the relationship with suppliers into three segments.

“First is building trust. The procedures are digitized and very transparent. Second, is running tenders and reverse auctions to give every vendor an equal opportunity to participate. Third is forming long-term partnerships with original equipment manufacturers to make sure safety and quality are never compromised.”

Round-the-clock availability is one of the key metrics for Konkan Railway. It also expects fast procurement of emerging equipment based on trust and communication. In return, the PSU has reduced the gaps in payment processes and guided vendors to expand their businesses.

Konkan Railway has about 300 key partners, among which 40–45 are major suppliers. They provide everything from transformers, motors, rotaries, wheelsets and braking systems to beds, linens, attestations, stationery goods and software. One of the key suppliers is Plasser India, which provides track maintenance equipment to Konkan Railway.

Required to operate in difficult geographies, Konkan Railway’s practices are robust and safe. With Santosh Kumar Jha at the helm, the PSU has expanded its revenue channels and looks to be the transformative force in the south-western parts of India.

Back to top