Andaman and Nicobar have started to look forward to their first ever rail-line project in the Union Territory after the Union Budget 2017-18
NEW DELHI: A 240-KM broad-gauge railway line connecting two major islands, with bridges and stations along the coast, will be part of an ambitious rail link connecting Port Blair with Diglipur on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands — a first in the country that will bring the archipelago on the rail map.
The Railway Ministry is set to approve the project, which will connect the Union Territory’s capital city in the south with the largest town on the north Andaman island currently linked by a 350-km bus service that takes over 14 hours and a ship that takes around 24 hours. There is no air connectivity.
According to an internal survey report of the ministry, the cost of the line will be Rs 2,413.68 crore with a negative rate of return on investment of -9.64 per cent. The Railways considers a line to be commercially viable if this figure is at least a positive of 12 per cent. But the ministry is set to approve this project owing to its “uniqueness and strategic importance”, according to documents.
The ministry’s Planning and Finance directorates cleared the project last week saying it is desirable because “it is unique, away from the mainland, and has tourism potential.”
Giving a fillip to the rail link, the Union Territory administration has agreed to share 50 per cent of the project’s operational cost — or loss.
“As soon as the line is commissioned, tourism will see a jump from the current 4.5 lakh visitors a year to around 6 lakh a year, as per our estimates. So even though the railway survey shows a negative return, our assessment is otherwise. However, we have agreed to share the operational losses, if any,” Jagdish Mukhi, Lieutenant Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, told.
According to the UT administration, the line has tourism potential and is of “immense strategic value” to the defence forces because Diglipur is just 300 km by sea from the southern coast of Myanmar — a broad-gauge train line from Port Blair to Diglipur will take three hours at the most.
The Railways’ Planning wing has suggested that the project may be taken up as part of the strategic lines it will build for Defence ministry, such as those in the border regions of the Northeast. The Finance arm has said that it may be taken up as a national project, like the Kashmir link, in which the general exchequer is billed. The Railway Board will take a final view on this issue soon.
The initial survey for the proposed line was completed in December 2014 but the plan was dropped. Last year, the project received a fresh push when the Railways updated the survey and the UT administration said it would chip in.
Among the major tourist attractions in Diglipur are the Ross and Smith islands. “These are just two of the main attractions. Lakhs of tourists take great pains to reach there from Port Blair every year. With the railway line in place, that part essentially become a part of the capital, beneficial to tourists, local residents and the defence forces,” said Mukhi.