Imagine a railway line at a height of 10,000 feet, and that too on the border with China! If Indian Railways and Ministry of Defence have their way, this may soon be a reality. The Ministry of Defence, in collaboration with the Ministry of Railways, is all set to finance the construction of three extremely strategic railway lines in the North-East. These are; Murkongselek (Assam) to Pasighat in Arunachal, Silapathar (Assam) to Bame in Arunachal and Bhalukpung to Tawang. The importance of a railway line to a district on the Indo-China border, both for the defence forces and civilians, cannot be overstated.
Situated at a height of 10,000 feet, Tawang is in the western most part of Arunachal Pradesh. Tawang is famous for its monastery, which is said to be the second biggest and oldest in Asia. The Final Location Survey (FLS) of the railway line will commence after finalisation of Terms of Reference, which is expected to take some time. The Ministry of Defence has already released Rs 25.18 crore to the North-East Frontier Railway for the survey, which is estimated to cost Rs 100.73 crore. The funds are being allocated by the Ministry of Defence as per the demand raised by Indian Railways.
FLS normally involves deciding on the final alignment of the line, details such as number and length of bridges and tunnels, etc, explains Pranav Jyoti Sharma, the CPRO of North-East Frontier Railway. The project is being financed by the Ministry of Defence, which means that the line will be of immense strategic value.
The engineering challenge: According to Sharma, the Bhalukpung-Tawang railway line will be one of the most challenging engineering projects executed so far by Indian Railways. According to him, very long tunnels are expected to be part of the railway line. Additionally, the fact that the railway line will pass through heights as wide-ranging as 500 feet to 9,000 feet, make the project a tough one to execute.
The tourism potential of such a railway line is vast, and is in line with the Narendra Modi government’s plans to push the tourist footfalls in the North-East part of India.
Expected completion? After the FLS is completed, and the DPR is submitted, the project will have to get various clearances before the construction can start. The time needed to complete the mammoth project will be known only after the FLS is completed. The total estimated cost of the project is anywhere between Rs 50,000 crore to Rs 70,000 crore.
At a time when China is flexing its muscles, India is doing well to expedite its strategic infrastructure projects to counter any potential threat. Yet another project that is in the pipeline, and deserves a mention, is the move to connect Port Blair with Diglipur on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The rail link, once established, would greatly benefit in the movement of defence forces, serving as a strategic line.