Born in a remote village in Palghat (Palakkad) district of Kerala on June 12, 1932, Dr. Elattuvalapil Sreedharan graduated from Government Engineering College, Kakinada, in April 1953. After a small stint as lecturer in civil engineering in Kerala Polytechnic, Calicut, he joined Bombay Port Trust as an apprentice engineer for a year, when he was selected for Indian Railway Service of Engineers and joined Southern Railway as a probationary assistant engineer in December 1954.
Dr. Sreedharan held a number of assignments as assistant engineer, executive engineer, divisional engineer and deputy chief engineer on Southern Railway and South Eastern Railway, when he was in charge of new line constructions such as Quilon-Ernakulammetre gauge line, Mangalore-Hassan railway line, a number of doubling projects, bridge and tunnel projects, and maintenance of permanent ways in Palghat, Hubli and Bezawada Divisions. During this period, he was given the railway minister’s award for restoring the Pamban Railway Bridge in 46 days, 125 spans of which were washed away in a tidal wave in December 1963. As deputy chief engineer, he was in charge of investigation, planning and design of the first-ever metro in the country, in Kolkata, from 1970 to 1975. He also served as chairman and managing director of Cochin Shipyard, general manager, Western Railway, and Member – Engineering, Railway Board.
On retirement in June 1990, Dr. Sreedharan was put in charge of the prestigious Konkan Railway project and, seven years later, joined Delhi Metro Rail Corporation as its first managing director. It is on account of these successful projects that he is credited with changing the face of public transport in India. In recognition, he was honoured with the Padma Shri by the Government of India and several other awards. In 2003, he was given the title of one of Asia’s Heroes by Time magazine. He also received the Confederation of Indian Industry Juror’s Award for leadership in infrastructure development (2002-03).
Outside India, Sreedharan has been honoured with the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur (Knight of the Legion of Honor) from the Government of France. In 2008, he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan; in 2009, he received a D.Litt. from Rajasthan Technical University; a Doctor of Philosophy degree (Honoriscausa) from IIT Roorkee; and in 2012, he bagged the SR Jindal Prize (honorary) from Sitaram Jindal Foundation.
Dr. E. Sreedharan stepped down as managing director of DMRC on December 31, 2011. After retirement, he was appointed principal advisor for the Kochi Metro rail project.