The Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport (MoIT), as the nodal ministry for transport activities, is currently convening several discussions with counterparts of the Government of India (GOI) regarding the 57.5 kilometer (km) railway line between Kokrajhar in Assam, India, and Gelephu in Sarpang, Bhutan.
According to Ugyen Norbu, Officiating Division, Head of Transport Planning and Development Division, Department of Surface Transport, MoIT, the discussions aim to establish greater clarity regarding the funding, construction, and operation of the railway link project.
“Additionally, in collaboration with the GoI, the Ministry has successfully concluded the Preliminary Engineering-cum-Traffic survey (PECTS),” said Ugyen Norbu.
A PECTS should identify potential challenges and opportunities related to the new railway line. This might include factors such as cost, environmental impact, and technical feasibility. By identifying these issues early on, engineers can work to address them before construction begins, ensuring a smoother and more successful project overall.
The PECTS is a critical step in the process of building a new railway line. By gathering and analyzing data related to the proposed route, existing infrastructure, and potential demand, engineers can gain a better understanding of the project’s feasibility, challenges, and opportunities. This information can then be used to design a railway line that meets the needs of the community it serves, while also minimizing potential negative impacts.
Subsequent to this survey, Ugyen Nordu said that a comprehensive set of studies, including geological, meteorological, hydrological, and environmental studies for track alignment and other related infrastructure, will be conducted.
On constructing the very first railway lines in the country, the railway links would provide much-needed alternate connectivity for a landlocked country like Bhutan to ensure backups, efficiency, consistency, and predictability for the imports and exports of commodities and other.
For instance, as a landlocked country, the only land transportation link between Bhutan and India for export and import is through road networks. This single dependency on roads creates a great deal of economic inefficiencies and as a result high transportation and logistical costs.
In addition, the railway connectivity will be more efficient, faster, relatively cheaper, and can transport more freight than a road, especially for traveling longer distances and carry higher loads.
Meanwhile, taking bilateral relations to new heights, India and Bhutan in January 25, 2005, signed a landmark accord for establishing rail links between bordering towns and agreed to step up cooperation in agriculture and power sectors.
Under the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), inked in the presence of the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, the two sides agreed to conduct feasibility studies for the extension of the Indian railway network from West Bengal and Assam to the nearest border towns of Bhutan.
The benefits of railway links will not just benefit the people of Bhutan but everyone living close to the vicinity. With connectivity becoming very vital in exporting and importing goods, Bhutanese exports like boulders to Bangladesh will become easier. Additionally, Gelephu is strategically located in the districts of Zhemgang, Tsirang, and others. As Gelephu has been recognized as one of the points of entry, the establishment of the rail link there becomes even more pertinent.
The Indian media in June 2022, reported that after Bangladesh and Nepal, India will provide rail connectivity to Bhutan, underlining that the first-ever broad-gauge line will come up from India to Bhutan at an estimated cost of Rs 1,000 core.
Reports said that the cross-border rail link is slated to be established between India and Bhutan as Indian Railways has undertaken an elaborate exercise to construct a broad-gauge line from Kokrajhar in India to Gelephu in Bhutan. The 57.5km long Kokrajhar-Gelephu rail link is expected to serve the long need for rail connectivity between the two neighboring countries.
Similarly, according to recent reports from the Indian media, the GoI has allocated Rs 1,200 billion (bn) for the expansion and development of railway infrastructure in the northeastern region of India; a timely boost for the much-anticipated first Bhutan – India railway link.
The 57.5km railway line between Kokrajhar in Assam, India, and Gelephu in Sarpang, Bhutan is to be constructed at an estimated cost of Rs 10bn which will be funded by the GoI, the Indian media reports.
Meanwhile, Ugyen Norbu, the division head said that the project’s cost estimate and detailed project plan will be developed once both governments reach consensus on the findings of the in-depth studies.
Sherab Dorji from Thimphu