Govt weighs rail links with Nepal, Bhutan

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By OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT in Delhi
  • Published 20.04.08
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New Delhi, April 20: Railway minister Laloo Prasad is exploring the possibility of a slew of projects that will connect India to Nepal and Bhutan.

The railways is planning to lay about 200 km of tracks between India and Bhutan and around 160km between India and Nepal.

Officials said the railway ministry has identified the connecting points between India and its two neighbours for the projects.

For the Bhutan project, the ministry is planning to connect the Indian town of Hasimara to Phuentsholing in Bhutan (18 kms), Banarhat to Samtse (16 kms), Rangia to Samdrup Jongkhar (60 kms), Kokrajhar to Gelephu (70kms) and Pathsala to Nanglam (40 kms).

Officials said for Nepal, studies were being carried out to connect the Indian town of Nautanwa to Bhairahwa in Nepal (15 kms), Nepalgunj Road to Nepalgunj (12 kms), Jogbani to Biratnagar (17 kms), New Jalpaiguri to Kakrabitta (46 kms) and Jayanagar to Bardibas (70 kms).The ministry is also planning a link to Bangladesh from Agartala in Tripura to Akhaura (12 kms). There is already a rail link between India and Pakistan. Earlier this week, a passenger train service between Calcutta and Dhaka resumed after four decades.

Europe has several train services such as Eurostar and Eurail that connect up to 20 countries, with passengers travelling from one country to another on a single ticket.

They are issued one visa that is valid for all the countries of the European Union.

Although India is not yet ready to replicate the European model, links with neighbouring countries will boost trade and tourism.

Studies on trade potential in the region said trade among the countries of the South Asian Association of Regional Co-operation (Saarc) could grow to $14 billion by 2010, if the existing tariffs were reduced. The Saarc comprises India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Maldives and Nepal. Officials said feasibility studies were being conducted to carry out the task, as it posed political and technological problems.

The projects will also have to contend with a geological challenge. The tracks have to be laid on the Himalayas, which is an earthquake-prone zone. They, however, said the ministry had not identified which of the links would be used for commercial traffic and which ones for passenger service.

While feasibility studies for laying the lines will take some time, officials said it was the success of the rail links to Pakistan and Bangladesh that had provided the impetus for the venture. The India-Pakistan rail link between Attari and Wagah is used for both passenger and goods traffic. The Munabao-Khokrapar link between the countries is used for passenger traffic.

There are five rail links between India and Bangladesh. However, the link between Gede in Bengal to Darsana in Bangladesh, which was reopened this month, is the only one to carry both goods and passengers. The other links – Singhabad in India to Rohanpur in Bangladesh, Petrapole-Benapole, Radhikapur-Birol and Mahisasan-Shahbazpur are used for goods traffic.

Of these the Radhikapur-Birol link is presently closed because of a gauge conversion exercise, while the Mahisasan-Shahbazpur link has not been operating for the past 12 years.