Renewed Focus: Rail connectivity in the Northeast finally gets attention

Rail connectivity in the Northeast finally gets attention

Over the past few years, the north-eastern region (NER), comprising Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Assam, has received an impetus to improve railway connectivity. Of the total existing rail network of 2,669.52 km, Assam (2,442.57 km) corners an almost 92 per cent share. Further, in the past three years, the government has converted over 970 km of metre gauge (MG) lines to broad gauge (BG). With this, the entire MG line network in the region stands converted to BG.

Connectivity improvement has been fuelled by a number of recent key developments. For instance, a new train between Silghat and Guwahati was flagged off in April 2017. During the same year, Assam also introduced its first Shatabdi Express, which will operate between Dibrugarh and Guwahati. During April-October 2017, 56 coaches were added for 28 mail express trains in the NER, leading to an additional 4,078 berths. To benefit travellers, the Astha Tourist Pilgrimage Train, passing through various religious destinations starting from Kamakhya, has also been introduced. More recently, in March 2018, a new weekly express special train – Arunachal Express – from Naharlagun railway station to Anand Vihar terminal in Delhi was flagged off.

The lack of rail connectivity to Sikkim, however, continues to be a cause for concern. While the foundation stone for the 45 km Sevoke-Rangpo new line worth Rs 13.39 billion was laid on October 30, 2009, the project has been stuck since.

Upcoming infrastructure

In a bid to improve rail connectivity in the region, the central government is executing 15 new rail line projects, with a length of 1,397 km, at a cost of over Rs 552 billion. In addition, six line doubling projects (482 km) are being undertaken at a cost of over Rs 92 billion. Of these projects, three new line projects – Salona-Khumta (99 km), Sibsagar-Jorhat (62 km) and Tezpur-Silghat (25 km) – and the Saraighat Bridge doubling (7 km) and Kamakhya-New Guwahati quadrupling (10 km) projects were sanctioned in 2017-18, at an estimated cost of over Rs 132 billion. The work on the projects, however, is yet to commence.

In addition, a total of 1,448 km lines in Assam, 12 km in Arunachal Pradesh and 2 km in Mizoram have been sanctioned for electrification in 2018-19.

Conclusion

Project execution in the region has always been a cause for concern. Geological complexities coupled with a paucity of funds renders project implementation difficult. Projects are also getting delayed due to delays in land acquisition and adverse law and order conditions. To overcome these issues, the central government has to proactively follow the “Act East” policy and undertake measures to ensure timely approvals.