India’s bid to take trains to Himalayan heights has inched closer to reality with the start of survey work for a broad gauge track to Tawang, the focus of China’s claim on Arunachal Pradesh.
On Saturday afternoon, minister of state for railways Manoj Sinha commenced the final location survey for three railway lines at Naharlagun railway station near Arunachal Pradesh capital Itanagar.
The most ambitious among these is the 378km Bhalukpong-Tenga-Tawang line in northwestern Arunachal Pradesh. The other two are the 248km line to Aalo in the central and the 227km line to Parasuramkund in the southeastern part of the state.
A broad gauge line exists till Bhalukpong on the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border. Bhalukpong is the entry point on the road to Tawang at 10,000 feet about 290km away.
Tawang is also connected by a helicopter service, but unpredictable weather often leads to cancellation of flights.
“The survey work is part of the government’s decision take railways to every state in the Northeast. All the states in the region are connected except for Sikkim,” said HK Jaggi, general manager (construction) of Northeast Frontier Railway.
The survey, he said, will find out ways of laying the track by avoiding high-altitude zones. “The Bhalukpong-Tawang line will be Indian Railways’ most challenging project and could cost more than Rs 70,000 crore.”
The official commencement of the railway survey projects came a day after the defence ministry accepted the state government’s proposal for dual use of advance landing grounds (ALGs), a few of them close to the border of Tibet.
These ALGs, developed and controlled by the Indian Air Force (IAF), are in operation at Ziro, Mechuka, Walong, Aalo, Pasighat and Tuting.
“Scheduled and non-scheduled (civil) operations from the ALGs are being permitted by IAF. Work on these ALGs have already been completed and test landings done in most,” defence secretary G Mohan Kumar wrote to the state’s BJP government on Friday.
Kumar also said existing building of IAF at Pasighat ALG can be used as the temporary civil terminal till the state government comes up with its own terminal.
“Civilian operations would bring succour to the sick and needy who require urgent transportation especially from places like Mechuka, Tuting and Walong which takes days to reach by road,” Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Pema Khandu said.
The use of the ALGs by civilians would go a long way in promoting tourism and other commercial activities to remote geographically-challenged areas.