Darjeeling, April 13: The Indian Railways is conducting a survey on the possibility of laying rail tracks from Sevoke to Rangpo in Sikkim. Experts say a positive report could pave the way for train services to the Himalayan state.
Mainly goods trains are expected to run on the broad gauge line, which will act as a back up to NH 31A, the only road link between Sikkim and the rest of the country. Incidentally, the news comes a day after National Highways Authority of India announced a plan to widen NH 31A.
Railway officials said the survey on the new route has already begun. The final report is being prepared and it will be completed within four to five months. It will then be forwarded to the railway board (for the final nod), T Rava, the chief public relations officer of Northeast Frontier Railway, told The Telegraph over phone from Maligaon in Assam.
The tracks will cover a distance of 50 km from Sevoke to Rangpo (see map for possible route), where a station is expected to come up. The final report will also contain an estimate of the total expenditure for the project.
While a rail link to Sikkim is a long-standing demand, this is not the first time that the railways has tried the extension. The first effort came when the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) was being set up to connect Darjeeling to Siliguri. The railways had then tried to build another route the Teesta Valley line that was going to be extended very close to the Bengal-Sikkim border.
While the 82-km-long Darjeeling-Siliguri toy train link was opened in 1881, work on the Teesta Valley line progressed comparatively slowly. The project suffered a major setback when landslides wreaked havoc across the hills in 1899.
However, when the Siliguri-Kalimpong road (the present NH 31A) was realigned in 1907-08, work on the Teesta Valley line resumed and it was finally inaugurated in 1915. Both the realigned road and the narrow gauge line followed, to a large extent, the course of the Teesta river.
The tracks, however, went only up to Gheile Khola and a station was set up at Riyang, more than 20 km short of the Bengal-Sikkim border. The final halt was at Kalimpong Road Station, which was very close to the present Teesta Bazaar, around 26 km from Sevoke. However, the line was abandoned in 1950 after the railways suffered heavy damage due to landslides that year.
Old timers recall that trains on the Teesta-Valley line would usually carry almost 20 tonnes of goods per trip, ferrying oranges from Sikkim and Tibetan goods (especially wool), traded through the Jelep-la pass, from Kalimpong.
Rava, however, maintained that the railways would not necessarily follow the exact route of the old Teesta Valley line.