Colombo: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday flagged off a train service between Talaimannar, an island in Sri Lanka’s north, to the capital Colombo.
The railway track was built with funding from the Indian government which has already allocated millions of dollars to develop the Tamil dominated north of Sri Lanka.
It is a 63-km track between Madhu Road, a town in northern Sri Lanka famous for the 350-year-old Roman Catholic Marian Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu, and Talaimannar, which is about 18 miles across the sea from Dhanushkodi, and is the Sri Lankan settlement that is geographically closest to India. The Madhu Road-Talaimannar line, which goes right up to Talaimannar Pier where Prime Minister Modi unveiled a plaque at the station, is the last segment of the prestigious 265-km Northern Railway Line Reconstruction Project. This stretch of the line has six stations, including Murukan, Mannar, Pesalai, Talaimannar, and Talaimannar Pier, and three sub-stations. The tracks are capable of running trains at speeds up to 120 km/h.
All services on the railway line were stopped in June 1990 after the Tamil Tiger rebels blasted the Mannar bridge in the northern province, which linked Mannar and Talaimannar island during the island’s 30 year civil war.
The 63-km newly built railway track between Mannar and Talaimannar Pier in the northwest is the last segment of a 265 km- long northern railway line reconstruction project funded by an Indian state owned company.
The Sri Lankan government said that the completion of the rail projects in the northern region is a big step towards providing safe, time and fuel efficient, comfortable and environment friendly transport service to its citizens.
“After re-opening this section, the commitment of the Sri Lankan government to restoring rail track connectivity in the Northern Province after a lapse of 25 years will be fulfilled. This will also fulfill the long-cherished dream of the local Tamil people for having direct rail connectivity to Colombo,” the government said.
Modi, who is currently on a two day state visit to Sri Lanka, provided a fresh Line of Credit of up to 318 million U.S. dollars for the island nation’s railways sector on Friday. “This will be used to procure rolling stock, and to restore and upgrade existing railway tracks,” he said.
The opening of the Talaimannar link is part of the larger restoration of rail routes connecting the former war-ravaged northern provinces with Colombo and the southern parts of Sri Lanka after 25 years. The rail connectivity with Talaimannar was destroyed during the ethnic conflict. While the line will help bind Sri Lanka closer together, the planned return of ferry services between India and Sri Lanka will restore the sea link between Talaimannar and Rameswaram, and rekindle traditional trading activities, besides bringing hundreds of families on either side of the sea closer.
In 2010, about a year after the final defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the end of the war in Sri Lanka, India bagged the contract to rebuild the destroyed railway line and telecommunications systems. The Indian Railway Construction (IRCON) International Ltd, an infrastructure construction company owned by the Ministry of Railways, began work on the Madhu-Talaimannar line on March 29, 2011. The project, carried out with financial assistance from India, has been completed at a cost of $ 149.7 million.
Importance of involvement in the rebuilding of former war-torn areas of Sri Lanka to India
Sri Lanka occupies a strategically critical location in the Indian Ocean, and China has been looking to invest deeply in the country and the region. China has been actively involved in Sri Lanka’s major infrastructure projects including the building of power plants, the modernization of Sri Lankan railways, and setting up satellite communication networks. India’s traditional ties with Sri Lanka have received a setback as a result of domestic politics in recent years, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit is also part of an effort to recover lost ground.