India’s northeast to be linked to Trans-Asian Railway Network

Mountainous northeast India would be connected to the railway network of neighbouring Myanmar to link up with the ambitious 81,000 km-long Trans-Asian Railway Network (TARN), an official said.

“To connect with the TARN, a 118-km railway track would be laid between (Manipur capital) Imphal and (border towns) Moreh and Tamu (the latter in western Myanmar),” Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) Chief Engineer (Construction) Harpal Singh told IANS.

“The survey work is now on and it would be completed by March next year,” Harpal Singh said.

He said that another 257-km railway route from north Tripura’s Jawahar Nagar railway station to northern Mizoram’s Kolashib and Myanmar’s Darlon has been proposed to connect with TARN.

“If Tripura and Manipur linked with the TARN, the northeastern states would be the gateway to Southeast Asian countries,” Harpal Singh explained.

“For the development of northeast India’s economy, tourism and people-to- people contacts between the region and Southeast Asian countries, the TARN would play a vital role,” he added.

The proposed TARN covers 80,900 km of rail lines, including 22,600 km in South Asia, Iran and Turkey. The southern corridor begins in Kunming in China and Bangkok in Thailand and ends in Kapikule in Bulgaria.

The length of the route between Bangkok and Kapikule is 11,460 km and provides trans-continental connectivity to China, Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Iran and Turkey.

Harpal Singh said that as per the ‘Vision-2020’, prepared by the North Eastern Council, the NFR would connect all the state capitals of northeastern states by 2020. Currently, Assam’s main city Guwahati and Tripura capital Agartala are linked with the Indian Railways network.

Agartala is one of the newest stations and came on the country’s rail map in October 2008.

The NFR is one of the 16 railway zones in India. Headquartered at Maligaon in Guwahati, it is responsible for rail operations in the entire northeast and parts of West Bengal and Bihar.

Harpal Singh also said that work on a new rail link between India and Bangladesh along Tripura would start later this year.

“To ease surface transport between the hilly northeastern states and rest of India and the neighbouring country, thisline would also play a key role,” he added.

At a cost of Rs 252 crores, India will build a 15-km track linking Agartala with Bangladesh’s southeastern city of Akhaurah, which is also an important railway junction connected to Chittagong port, resource-rich Sylhet and capital Dhaka.

“Necessary survey and alignment of the railway tracks have been completed. Bangladesh would soon engage the agency for laying railway tracks on their side. We expect the work on the line would start this year,” the NFR construction chief added.

An agreement for the new railway line was signed between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina during the latter’s visit to India in January 2010.

“The entire cost would jointly born by the ministry of external affairs and the ministry for development of northeastern region. The Indian Railway Construction Company (IRCON) would lay the track on the Indian side,” the official added.

A steering committee under Radhika Lokesh, an additional secretary in the external affairs ministry has also been formed to implement the new India-Bangladesh railway project, for which a memorandum of understanding was signed in Dhaka on Feb 16.

“The NFR is now extending the 135 km railway network up to (southern Tripura’s border town) Sabroom. With the establishment of the new railway link, north east India would be connected to the Chittagong port by rail,” Harpal Singh noted.

From Sabroom, Chittagong is just 72 km away.

Surface connectivity is an important factor as the landlocked north eastern states are surrounded by Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and China. The only land route to these states from within India is through Assam and West Bengal. But this route passes through over 70 percent hilly terrain with steep roads and multiple hairpin bends.

India has for long been seeking land, sea and rail access through Bangladesh for ferrying goods and heavy machinery to the northeast from abroad and other parts of the country.

Agartala, for instance, is 1,650 km from Kolkata and 2,637 km from New Delhi via Guwahati and West Bengal, whereas the distance between the Tripura capital and Kolkata through Bangladesh is just about 350 km.

Centre committed to development of inter-country rail linkages

The government of India is committed to the development of inter-country rail linkages and in furtherance of this policy supports the development of Trans-Asian Railway Network, Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal said here today.

This network would provide a major land corridor for transport of people and goods across the frontiers of the member countries, Bansal said while speaking at the 7th meeting of Railways of South and South East Asian Countries.

Bansal said that one of the important key objectives of the Government of India is to assist the neighbouring countries to develop their rail infrastructure and credit facilities have been extended to some of these countries.

He said one of India’s initiatives is to provide a gratis training programme for the railway personnel from the member countries. He announced that in keeping with the wishes of the member countries, the Government of India has decided to extend this programme for a further period of five years.

The Railway Minister further said that Indian Railways have thrown open its Research Development and Standards Organisation (RDSO) for joint research projects involving the railways of the region.

Bansal emphasised that regional cooperation and trade is a beneficial mode of economic development and Railways have a great advantage of being socially the most benign mode of transport.

In his speech Chairman Indian Railway Board Vinay Mittal said that the annual meetings of railways of South and South-East Asia have provided an effective forum for sharing experiences and for launching important cooperative initiatives in the rail sector.

Trans-Asian Railway network enters into force

Bangkok, June 11: The Intergovernmental Agreement on the Trans-Asian Railway Network (TAR) came into force, allowing countries throughout Asia to coordinate development and operation of international rail routes linking 28 countries in the region.

The agreement took effect yesterday, the ninetieth day after the governments of at least eight member states consented to be bound by its terms. The eight countries which already ratified the agreement with the UN Secretary-General are China, Cambodia, India, Mongolia, South Korea, Russia, Tajiki stan and Thailand. The Republic of Georgia has also agreed to the terms of the pact, but its membership will take effect after 90 days.

Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) Executive-Secretary, said that the Trans-Asian Railway (TAR) network spans 114,000 kilometres linking 28 countries, providing regional connectivity and linkages to Europe via Russia and the Midd le East via Iran.

Dr. Heyzer said, however, 8,300-kilometres of necessary linkages are still missing and an estimated budget of US$25 billion is required to complete construction. Many routes are being built, such as the rail lines linking Iran to Azerbaijan, Turkey to Georgia and Iran to Armenia.