Will Seemandhra get own South Coast Railway zone?

Visakhapatnam (VSKP): With the bifurcation process gathering momentum, the proposal for a separate railway zone for Seemandhra too is picking up pace with various parties already urging the Group of Ministers (GoM) to consider a separate zone with Vizag as its headquarters.

In the light of these developments, even the authorities concerned are reportedly busy assessing the pros and cons of having a new railway zone. As per the assessments of Indian Railways and experts, the new zone will most likely comprise the Waltair Division of the East Coast Railway (ECoR) as well as Vijayawada, Guntur and Guntakal divisions of South Central Railway and is likely to be named South Coast Railway.

According to sources, Vizag is most suitable as the South Coast Railway headquarters as Waltair Division is the fourth highest revenue earner among the 70 Indian Railways divisions. Moreover, Vizag is the only city in Seemandhra region housing major industrial as well as commercial establishments and offers healthy industrial relations compared to Vijayawada, Guntur and Guntakal. Vizag is also a busy railway junction in terms of passenger and freight traffic and has a huge land bank of over 1,000 acres for future development, a source explained.

However, railways experts feel that Waltair division should be taken up as it is, because additions or deletions in any division to be merged with South Coast Railways may lead to operational problems.

CPI district secretary JV Satyanarayana Murthy said that the region between Kakinada and Srikakulam has been neglected all these years because it lies on the fringes of ECoR and SCR.

Many railway employees also accused ECoR of giving more importance to Khurda and Sambalpur divisions despite being smaller than Waltair division. There is also a feeling that ECoR has been meting out a step brotherly treatment to Andhra region under its purview as it has been extending Vizag-bound trains up to Odisha even as several trains bypass Vizag station despite widespread public outcry. They also alleged that ECoR has been blatantly partial while proposing or introducing new trains in Waltair division.

Uttarandhra Political JAC convener JT Rama Rao alleged that while the AP region under ECoR got only nine trains in the last decade, of which two have been announced but not yet started, Odisha region got 59 various trains in the same duration. Even the nearly 646.23 km lines under construction are being laid in Odisha. As far as doubling works of around 1,178 km go, AP region has only 37.204 km projects in the pipeline while 878 km are in Odisha and the rest in Chhattisgarh.

While concerns have been expressed about the viability of ECoR after Waltair division is detached from it, railway union leaders say there is no question of non-viability because all zones function under the Railway Board. Indian Railways works as a single unit and revenues and expenditures of various zones are accounted for through the Consolidated Fund of India. Many zones like NFR, NER, NWR, NCR and ECR have negative operational ratios and are still operational, so ECoR will also remain functional after Waltair division is hived off, they argued.

There is buzz that after detaching Waltair division, ECoR will have Khurda and Sambalpur divisions and can form a Jajpur-Keonjhar division with a 714 km route. Likewise, South Central Railways will survive without Guntur, Vijayawada and Guntakal as it will have Secunderabad, Hyderabad and Nanded divisions with a 2,911 km route track and Telangana region too will see the fulfillment of its long pending demand of Kazipet division that can be hived off from Secunderabad division.

Supporting the proposal, ECoR Shramik Congress president KS Murthy said if the bifurcation is inevitable, then Seemandhra state should have a separate zone with headquarter selected based on geographical features, availability of land, convenience and other issues.