KOLKATA: Riding a train to picturesque Sikkim and moving troops and armaments faster towards Indo-Tibet border might not just be a dream anymore.
With the Supreme Court giving green signal to the 45 km railway project from Sevoke in West Bengal to Rangpo in Sikkim, a Ministry of Railway team led by Railway Board chairman Ashwani Lohani is set to visit the Himalayan region on March 2 to examine the infrastructural readiness of Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) and meet its officials to discuss the stipulated date for commencement of laying of tracks and building of tunnels to reach the Himalayan state.
The move gains significance as the two Asian giants were locked in a 70-day stand-off at Doklam Plateau at the Indo-Tibet-Bhutan tri-junction last year.
Though then railway minister Mamata Banerjee laid the foundation stone for the project on October 30, 2009, the Rs 1,339 crore project which had a completion deadline of 2015 never saw the light of the day due to pitched protests by environmental activists over concerns that the speeding trains might kill protected animals in the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary through which the tracks will pass. The concerns arise from incidents of several elephants and leopards being annually mowed down by speeding trains in the forested region of Dooars in north Bengal.
However, a Supreme Court bench led by Justice T S Thakur approved the project in February 2016 with strict guidelines of the National Wildlife Board that cleared the project in June 2015 but ordered restricted speed, wireless animal tracking sensors and allowed digging of tunnels only during daytime.
Sikkim chief minister Pawan Kumar Chamling was the main proponent of the railways citing both security and socio-economic reasons. While the railways to Sikkim will help troops and armaments move faster towards the Indo-Tibet border in the wake of China reportedly building railway tracks from Lhasa towards their side of the border, it will also help the landlocked state to stay connected with rest of India during all times.
Presently, Sikkim is connected with rest of India through only National Highway 10 which is prone to frequent landslides and blockades during Gorkhaland agitations that erupt every few years.
Train to Sikkim
Estimated cost: Rs 1,339.48 crore
From and to: Sevoke to Rangpo
Total railway line length: 44.98 km
Stations in between: Riang, Gailkhola, Tista Bazaar, Melli
Nearest junction: New Jalpaiguri (30 km from Sevoke)
Route under tunnels: 38.53 km (85.86%)
Number of bridges: 28
Number of tunnels: 14
Longest tunnel: 5.1 km