Leh To Be Connected With Rail Line With Delhi Via Bilaspur

30 July 2014
The Daily Excelsior
Sanjeev Pargal

Jammu: In a bold military initiative, the Government of India has not only given nod to construction of 498 kilometers Bilaspur-Manali-Leh railway line to directly link Leh with New Delhi by rail but also directed the Railways Ministry to start work on project within three months. The project is expected to cost Rs 22,831 crores if completed within scheduled deadline of 5 years but the cost could escalate if the project jumps the deadline. Official sources told the Excelsior that the railway project has very strategic significance in view of potential threat posed by China in Leh due to frequent transgressions into the Indian territory and a long term solution for the Army to provide regular military supplies to Leh and Kargil districts throughout the year by rail from New Delhi. Presently, both Kargil and Leh districts remain cut off from road with rest of the country for nearly six months during the winter due to heavy snowfall. As an alternate measure, the Centre has also directed for speedy construction of two tunnels at Zojila to link both strategically important districts with rest of the country by road in all weather conditions. Sources said a survey conducted by the Railways to extend Jammu-Katra-Banihal-Srinagar railway line to Leh was not found feasible in view of steep ascents on Srinagar-Leh route. However, the survey conducted to link Leh with New Delhi via Manali and Bilaspur was found feasible and approved by the Government of India as soon as it was placed before the new Government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi by the Railways Ministry. Sources said the railway line between Bilaspur in Himachal Pradesh to Leh in Jammu and Kashmir would pass through Mandi, Kullu and Lahaul Spiti. From Bilaspur, the Centre proposed to connect the railway line to Pathankot or Joginder Nagar in Punjab for direct connectivity between New Delhi to Leh. Even in fair weather during summer, it takes Army vehicles at least four days to take supplies from New Delhi to Leh. With the construction of rail line, the timing would be reduced to less than two days, sources said, adding that this would strongly strengthen the armed forces in Leh, bordering China and Kargil, bordering Pakistan in case of any eventuality. The troops deployed in strategic Siachen Glacier to protect borders with Pakistan would also get boost as they would get supplies directly from Leh instead of New Delhi. Though most of the boundary disputes with China in Leh after transgressions by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) are settled mutually through talks, the Government of India didn't want to take any chances as China has constantly been strengthening its rail and road network in the areas bordering Leh. India shares long un-demarcated boundary with China in Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh. China has already constructed railway line up to Tibet from its Qinghai province. China has been in advantageous position after connecting most of its areas, bordering India, through rail and road network while India lacks such networks in most of the areas. Admitting that Railways would face serious challenges in construction of railway line, sources said the Railways had overcome similar challenged while construction of railway line at Konkan and Kashmir Valley and the survey conducted by the Railways on Manali-Leh rail line revealed that the Railways would be able to accomplish the task within the stipulated period of five years. The survey revealed that Tanglang La in Lahaul Spiti will be the highest railway station in the world at the height of 17582 feet from the sea level once the railway line is completed overtaking the current record of Tang Gula railway station in China, which has been construction at the height of 16,686 feet from the sea level in Tibet, sources said. The preliminary survey has estimated cost of the project at Rs 22,831 crores and total length of the railway line from Bilaspur to Leh as 498 kilometers. Sources said in the long run the rail project to Leh would go a long way in meeting requirements of the armed forces in strategically important Leh and Kargil districts. Apart from meeting the strategic needs, the railway line would also boost tourism in both Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh as there was no railway line to Manali and Leh. Even the road links to two important tourist stations remained in worst conditions during the summer when tourist rush is at its peak.