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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XIX No. 4, june 1-15, 2009
Will Metro threaten
St. Andrew's?
(By a Special Correspondent)

With work beginning this week on Chennai’s metro rail project, the parishoners of St. Andrew’s Kirk, one of the city’s landmark buildings and hailed as a feat of engineering, have reason for concern. A portion of the underground corridor of the Metro along Poonamallee High Road is scheduled to be built under the church land and within 25 metres of the church building itself. Will the Church be able to withstand the rigours of the construction work and also the ­sustained vibrations caused by rolling stock once the rail service comes into operation?

St. Andrew’s Kirk.

Representatives of the Church first attended public briefing sessions in 2008 when the project was announced and the route was planned along Poonamallee High Road. At that time, they were assured that the underground corridor would run beneath the road and the church would not be affected. Later, they came to know that the ­proposed route would run beneath church land and close to the building itself.

John Rajanayagam, Secretary of the Church, says that the Church immediately contacted Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL), the ­company that is entrusted with the project. They were informed that CMRL was taking the help of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) when it came to heritage buildings along the route and that the general principle would be that no ­construction would take place within 100m of such buildings. It was only later that the members of the church realised that theirs was a building that does not come under the ASI’s purview, as St. Andrew’s is not an ancient monument. The absence of a Heritage Act in the city meant that buildings such as St. Andrew’s are not protected by any legislation.

Letters were immediately dispatched to the Chairman and Managing Director of CMRL ­explaining the necessity to protect the church. A reply was received that the matter would receive attention once the consultants for the project, Egis Rail SA of France, came down in a couple of months’ time to advise on the project. Matters rest there for now.

Others concerned with the welfare of heritage buildings in the city have also approached the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) which is represented in the CMRL through its Member-Secretary. The CMDA ­appears to have been unaware of such a threat to the church.

Consecrated in 1821, St Andrew’s was, and is, lauded as a feat of engineering as de Havilland, the engineer, overcame the problem of subsidence in the area by adapting an ancient Tamizhagam building technique of sinking terracotta wells to form the foundation for the church. These could well be severely affected by the vibrations during any tunneling activity in the vicinity and threaten the structural stability of the church. The building which showed signs of wear and tear was renovated and strengthened a few years ago by a team comprising structural engineers from IIT led by Mr. P.C. Verghese with advice from Karslruhe University, Germany. The team had studied the Church and its design thoroughly and would be ideally positioned to help in situations such as this.

The CMRL’s web site http://www. has a statement claiming that alignments and stations are tentative at present and subject to change during the actual execution. It is to be hoped that better sense will prevail when it comes to St Andrew’s. It is absolutely necessary that a project such as the Metro takes into account the effect it will have on stakeholders and any decision on this church and its ability to withstand construction in its vicinity must be taken only after consultation with the engineers who worked on its restoration.”


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