India To Build Rail Line To Ladakh

25 April 2009
The Hindu

New Delhi: The ambitious and strategically crucial project to link mountain-locked Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir with rest of the country by train has moved a step closer to fructification with the Railways finalising the feasibility report in this regard. The first rail link is proposed to be between Leh and Bilaspur in Himachal Pradesh and six passenger trains and nine goods trains are planned on the 498 km-long section. 'The feasibility report of Leh-Bilaspur rail link project is almost ready and it will be submitted to Railway Ministry shortly for scrutiny. After the scrutiny, the report would be sent to the Planning Commission before being sent to Parliament for final approval,' said a senior Railway Ministry official involved with the feasibility study. The project is strategically crucial as it is part of India's efforts to improve infrastructure in the border region considering that China has already built a rail link to Tibet. China has also improved connectivity with Pakistan via the Karakoram highway which runs close to the Indian border. The proposed Leh rail project came up for discussion at the Army Commanders' Conference here recently in the context of improving supply lines along the border like China has done. According to the study, the Leh-Bilaspur project, which is estimated to cost about Rs 22,000 crore, 6,000 passengers are expected to travel daily in the section, once the line is operational. On the freight front, the feasibility report has taken into account the possibility of carrying 3.92 million tonnes - mostly food grains, steel, sugar, oil, iron and cement - in a year. The proposed Leh-Bilaspur rail project will have 20 stations including Chhibbrin, Sundar Nagar, Bhangrotu, Mandi, Kullu, Manali, Mulden, Pang and Jarapa. The rail link is crucial for the country's defence security. India has been beefing up infrastructure along the Chinese border in Ladakh region and has reopened several forward landing bases to ensure faster supply lines for troops posted in difficult terrain. It is estimated to cost about Rs 45 crore per km to construct the rail line in the section. There would also be provisions for attending to any accident along the route. Two sites have been proposed along the 498-km long route for setting up facilities for accident relief trains. Trains are expected to run at 65 km per hour in the section, according to the study. Beside troop movement, the rail link would give a boost to tourism in the area. However, only two passenger trains are expected to run during the winter since the mountainous area sees heavy snowfall in the season, said the study.