NEW DELHI: Did the Dokalam standoff derail the Railways’ ambitious project to increase speed of trains to 160 kmph from the present 80 kmph on the Chennai-Bangalore-Mysore section? This is what officials at the Ministry of Railways believe as repeated communication to the Chinese company, which completed the feasibility study on the section, has remained unanswered for the past six months.
The feasibility study by the China Railway Eryuan Engineering Group Co Ltd was submitted in November 2016 and after that the company sought a meeting with officials in the Railway Board. Now, the board is chasing the company. Repeated reminders through emails were sent in last 5-6 months but there has been no response.
After Piyush Goyal took over as railway minister in September, he asked for a detailed status of all nine semi-high speed routes that were identified by the NDA government. The mobility directorate in the Railway Board, which looks after the semi-high speed routes, informed the minister that while the Delhi-Agra route was made operational in 2016 with the country’s fastest train Gatimaan Express running between the two cities, the work on seven of the eight projects is underway at a fast pace.
Goyal was told that the trouble area was on the Chennai-Bengaluru-Mysuru section, which was handled by the Chinese company.
“The Chinese company submitted the final report in November 2016 and after that the Chinese team suggested a face-to-face interaction. No date has been fixed for this from their side,” said the note prepared by the Mobility Directorate, which was reviewed by the New Indian Express. The Railway Board categorically mentioned that “Reason for delay – lack of response from Chinese Railway.”
The Railway Board through the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in India has sent several emails to the company but has not heard back anything. “The Chinese Embassy told us they have communicated to the company but we have not heard anything,” said sources in the ministry. Communication sent by the New Indian Express to the Chinese Embassy in India seeking its comment on the issue remains unanswered.
On the reason behind it, a senior Railway Ministry official said it could be because of the India-China standoff in Bhutan’s Dokalam region. The standoff began June 16 and ended August 28 with
both sides reaching an agreement. “They completed the feasibility study free of cost and even other Chinese companies had shown keen interest in cooperating with Indian Railways on various projects. But suddenly, this company has gone incommunicado,” said the official.
The Chinese were pitching for the Mumbai-Ahemdabad high speed network which was bagged by Japan. They also offered to handle the bullet train project in the Mumbai-Delhi sector, which is yet to be decided. Railways engineers are getting trained in China in heavy hauling and even India’s first Railway University is being set up in collaboration with China.