Centre speeds up Final Location Survey for Bilaspur-Manali-Leh rail project

Strategic rail lines help in movement of troops, tanks and necessary supplies to border areas that are normally cut off from the rest of the country.

bilaspur-manali-leh-rail-projectThe government of India has speeded up the Bilaspur-Manali-Leh rail project by including it in the list of projects for border areas for which a final location survey (FLS) has been taken up on priority.

The estimated cost of the 498 km long project is Rs 345 crore. The Union Ministry of Defence has started rail line projects along the China, Nepal and Pakistan border as a strategic line.

A total of 14 strategic lines have been identified, of which four lines, namely, Missamari-Tenga-Tawang of 378 km, Pasighat-Tezu-Rupai of 227 km, Bilaspur-Manali-Leh of 498 km and North Lakhimpur-Bame (along)-Silapathar of 249 km, will be taken up in the first phase.

However, none of these projects has been sanctioned. Since all these projects pass through very difficult terrains of young Himalayas, stability, geology, constructability, maintainability and safety issues are to be examined.

The final location survey (FLS) has been carried out at an expense of Rs 345 crore and the Ministry of Defence has provided Rs 87.18 crore for the FY 2017.

The Bilaspur–Mandi–Leh railway is a proposed high-elevation all-weather Indian broad-gauge 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) railway track that is planned to connect Bilaspur in Himachal Pradesh to Leh in Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir state of India. It would link to the Indian railway network via an extension of the Kangra Valley Railway to Mandi, which would be converted to broad gauge.

The total expected length of Bilaspur–Mandi–Leh railway is almost 500 km (310 miles). It would become the highest railway track in the world, overtaking the current record of China’s Qinghai–Tibet Railway. The Railway Budget 2011-2012 announced that the project would be taken up in the next year’s budget. The next year’s Railway Budget announced that the project was sent to the Planning Commission for appraisal. As of September 2016, Northern Railways has begun the process of acquiring land for setting up office in Leh.

Strategic importance

Once this railway line is completed, Leh will be directly connected to Himachal Pradesh and the rest of India by railway. The distance between Bilaspur and Leh will be about 500 km (310 mi). When the railway lines to Bilaspur and then to Leh are completed, the time taken to reach Leh from Delhi will be reduced to less than two days compared to about four days by the existing highway from Manali. Personnel and equipment will be transported more easily to Leh, a strategic military base. This is one of the four important railway connectivity along China border identified by the Defence Ministry.

After Konkan Railway and Kashmir Railway, Bilaspur–Mandi–Leh railway line will be the most challenging railway project in Indian Railways due to high mountains, a large number of tunnels and high bridges and severe cold weather. According to the survey report, cost of construction of this 498 km (309 mi) long all weather broad gauge railway line has been calculated at Rs 22,831 crore with a negative rate of return of 4.46%. However, it is uncertain when the construction would start, if at all.

The Narendra Modi government has cleared proposals to build 14 strategic railway lines along the border areas. This will boost connectivity and allow easy movement of troops.

The project has been initiated by the Defence Ministry as “strategic line,” said Minister of State for Railways Rajen Gohain on Wednesday, PTI reported.

The government has identified a total of 14 strategic lines. In the first phase, it will be taking up four strategic lines — all bordering China.

  • Missamari-Tenga-Tawang line covering a distance of 378km
  • Bilaspur-Manali-Leh line covering a distance of 498km
  • Pasighat -Tezu-Rupai line covering a distance of 227km
  • North Lakhimpur-Bame-Silapathar line covering a distance of 249km

The government, however, said that the project has not been sanctioned. This is because the projects pass via difficult terrain of the Himalayas and the government has to assess and examine stability, geology, construction, maintenance and safety of undergoing such an important project.

These lines will also be coming up on Pakistan and Nepal border. In comparison with China, India lags behind in railway line construction in difficult terrain.

Reports from China revealed of Chinese proposal to connect Nepal via Tibet and from there to India! Chinese railway has reached Shigatse in Tibet and has to cross a crucial 564-km stretch in the high-altitude region if it has to reach Nepal border.

Strategic railway lines help in the movement of troops, tanks and other necessary supplies to border areas that are normally cut off from the rest of the country.