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Sikkim to get first train service by 2024

Sivok-Rangpo rail project

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GANGTOK, May 30 (PTI): With over 50 percent work done on the Sivok-Rangpo railway line project, Sikkim is expected to become a part of the national network by 2024, while the country will get an “infrastructure of strategic importance” in the Himalayan state that borders China.

Passing through mountains, over ravines and the Teesta River, the under-construction all-weather 45-km rail line from Siliguri in West Bengal to Rangpo in Sikkim will have 14 tunnels and 22 bridges, officials said on Tuesday.

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“Work is underway on war footing but being done with extreme care as the entire project falls in seismic four and five zones. In addition, there is always the threat of landslides and flash floods,” Project Director Mohinder Singh from IRCON International, a central PSU under the Ministry of Railways, said.

Safety protocols are in place and being followed, the official of the Indian Railway Construction (IRCON) International Limited, assured.

He further said that there are also plans to extend the line up to Gangtok, but that is at a later stage.

There have been crucial breakthroughs in tunnel building and laying of bridges, he told reporters and added that the two-km tunnel (T-14) before the yet-to-be built Rangpo station has been completed while six are in its final stages (lining work).

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“This is an infrastructure of strategic importance as well as of economic importance,” the director said when asked about the project’s significance in view of Sikkim sharing its border with China.

“Overall, more than 50 per cent of the work has been completed,” he said.

Echoing his views on the significance of the rail line project – 41.45 km of which is in West Bengal and 3.51 km in Sikkim, Darjeeling MP Raju Bisht said, “The region (Sikkim and North Bengal) share borders with four countries — Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and China – and a part of it is called the ‘chicken’s neck’. This is a very sensitive region.”

“Besides improving connectivity in the region, known for its many tourist destinations, it will be a major boost from the security point facilitating troop movement,” the MP said.

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From Siliguri to Rangpo, a car journey takes around three hours in view of heavy traffic and narrowness of the road that runs along the Teesta, but the rail project will cut it short to one hour, according to the officials.

“The project is a major push towards better rail connectivity to border states. Once the project is completed, it will improve transportation of goods, particularly essential items, which otherwise during inclement weather is hampered because of landslides,” the project director said.

The track on the Sivok-Rangpo section of the Northeast Frontier Railway will have a capacity to handle 25 tonnes and trains can run at a maximum speed of 110 kmph.

“We will be running both freight and passenger trains on this section,” Singh said.

There will be three stations – Riyang, Teesta and Melli — between Sivok and Rangpo.

“The Teesta station will be underground, the first for the Indian Railways,” Singh said, adding that yards for freight are also being constructed on the single line route.

Of the 45-km rail line, 86 per cent or 38.62 km are tunnels, 2.24 km in bridges – 13 major and nine minor, according to an IRCON document.

“This is not only a project of national and strategic importance but a technological and engineering marvel,” Singh said.

However, the project has had its delays.

The project was awarded to IRCON International in May 2010 at a cost of Rs 4,084.69 crore and the original deadline was May 2015. The revised date is now December 2024 with revised cost, including escalation, of Rs 12,474.07 crore, according to the document.

The company attributed the setback to factors such as “delays in forest land division falling in West Bengal”, “permission for conducting survey in Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary”, process involving “diversion of forest land” and Covid-19.

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