The Commissioner of Railway Safety (CRS) warned of a catastrophic disaster in the middle of 2015 regarding the Lumding-Silchar broad-gauge link in Assam, terming it to be a danger to travelling public. The link is one of the most crucial arterial tracks in the Northeast region. This was not for the first time the issue was flagged. As per a report by Indian Express, at least three other senior Railway officials pointed out this safety issue and raised objections over the link. However, the line was nevertheless opened.
The report further stated that four months prior to this, the line was shut down for about three months due to two back-to-back passenger train derailments amid rainfall and landslides – there were no casualties reported. The track was once again opened in August 2016 following some corrective measures and has been operational since then. Speaking to Indian Express, H K Jaggi, General Manager, Northeast Frontier Railway Construction Organisation, which built the line said, “There were derailments due to slippage in the ghat section, which is common. The line has been functioning without any incident for over a year now. Now we have identified 14 locations for patrolling… instrumentation in many places has also been done.”
There are about 79 major and 340 minor bridges and 21 tunnels in the link. S Nayak, the CRS, in his report in July 2015 mentioned, “Having inspected the Broad Gauge line…and having various technical discussions with Railway officials including detailed correspondences made with Railway Administration, I am of the opinion that the newly converted BG single line between New Haflong-Ditokcherra-Badarpur-Silchar can’t be opened for passenger traffic without danger to travelling public…”
The Indian Express report further highlighted that the link, 210-km long, provides subsequent connectivity to Manipur on one side and Mizoram on the other. Also places like Lumding and Silchar were originally connected by a metre gauge line. Later around 52 km of the new line was diverted through a geologically difficult stretch in the hills of Indo-Burma range.
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Highlighting that these corrective measures would only provide ‘limited relief’ to passengers’ safety, Nayak’s report further said, “The stability of the formation, tunnels, bridges, need to be holistically reviewed by a team of experts in geo-technology and structural engineering both in-house and from outside to formulate Action Plan for immediate short term and long term satisfactory performance… any failure in the critical section [New Haflong-Ditokcherra hill section] has potential for a catastrophic disaster, Railway Administration is urged to consider every possible risk and systematically address its mitigation.”
The report further said that post the CRS verdict, the NFRCO sent a letter to the Railway Board claiming that Nayak’s observations had been complied with. However, the letter did not include the consent of two key official including Chief Track Engineer and the Chief Bridge Engineer.