Friday, October 30, 2009

Railway Minister Mamata to flag off Sikkim lifeline today

Gangtok,October30: After a long wait, Union railway minister Mamata Banerjee is going to give a big push to the revival of a hill train from Sevok in West
Bengal to Rangpo in Sikkim. The minister will lay the foundation stone of the project on Friday.

But how far the dream can come true is a question especially after concerns of technical experts are considered.

The rail ministry will invest Rs 1013 crore in the first phase to re-develop the rail track, Ms Banerjee had said. Besides being a jewel in the Northeast Frontier Railway crown, the track would be a ‘lifeline’ to Sikkim, the land-locked Himalayan state that is dependent on NH31A, a landslide-prone, risky and narrow road, for its connectivity to the rest of the country.

However, experts, so far enthusiastic over revival of the track, raised serious questions after it was decided that the tracks will be rebuilt in broad gauge instead of narrow gauge.

"This track needs to climb 1000 ft within 30 km aerial distance. So it must have many wide curves to gain technically required minimum running length. It also must be capable of withstanding heavy loads. How much would the weak and hilly topography of Teesta bank allow these is a major question," said a senior railways engineer on condition of anonymity.

Moreover, the planned course hosts many upcoming major hydroelectricity projects. Feasibility study and DPR of all these were prepared without any consideration for the broad gauge track. In the long run, running of heavy trains along it may not be healthy for the road, the hydro projects or the rail track itself, said geologists.

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