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2 India's rail-building
challenge By Sudha Ramachandran
BANGALORE - With freight corridors linking
India to some of its neighbors likely to be
established in the next few years, important gaps
in the Trans-Asian Railway (TAR) will be bridged.
But while the plans are generating some excitement
in Delhi - the rail links are expected to reduce
the cost of transporting goods and thereby boost
trade - there is concern that the harsh terrain
and turbulence in areas through which the trains
would run could stand in the way of the project.
India is planning a rail link with
Myanmar, which involves
Jiribam-Imphal-Moreh line in the eastern Indian
state of Manipur and the Tamu-Kalay-Segyi line in
Myanmar, as well as rehabilitating Myanmar's
existing Segyi-Chaungu Myohaung line.
According to Rail India Technical and
Economic Services Ltd, a state-run company that
conducted the feasibility study of the proposed
freight corridor, the Jiribam-Imphal-Moreh rail
link would cost US$649 million, while the
Tamu-Kalay-Segyi link in Myanmar would cost $296
million. Refurbishing the Segyi-Chungu-Myohaung
line has been pegged at $62.5 million.
With the construction of the rail corridor
between India and Myanmar, India will be linked by
rail to Southeast Asia. And "since Myanmar is
getting a rail link with China, to be completed in
around three years, a link with Myanmar could help
India reach China and then right up to Russia",
Jay Prakash Batra, chairman of both the Indian
Railway Board and the International Union of
Railways (the Paris-based organization that works
for cooperation between different railway
systems), said recently. A final decision on the
project is yet to be made by the governments of
India and Myanmar, he said.
officials in Delhi point out that transporting
goods via rail will be faster than by sea. The
amount of freight that can be carried by rail is
more than by road. This is an economical option
and it will cut transport costs. Officials point
out that with the India-Myanmar rail link, goods
can be transported from Delhi to Hanoi. It is
expected to transform the economy in India's
northeast as well.
northeast needs more windows," said Pradip
Phanjoubam, editor of the Manipur-based Imphal
Free Press. The railway corridor will provide a
significant window to its economy.
India and Myanmar decide to go ahead with the
project, an important missing link in the TAR
would fall into place.
The TAR envisages
the creation of an integrated freight railway
network across Europe and Asia. When the idea was
conceived in the 1960s, the objective was to
provide a continuous 14,000-kilometer rail link
between Singapore and Istanbul, with possible
onward links to Europe and Africa.
scope and ambitions have grown dramatically since.
Today the network includes about 81,000km of rail
routes - the 12,600km Southeast Asia corridor, the
32,500km Northeast Asia corridor, the 13,200km
Central Asia and Caucasus corridor and the
22,600km South Asia-Iran-Turkey corridor - and
connects 28 countries in the region.
of the rail network is already in place but some
gaps remain, such as the 350km gap between India
and Myanmar. Some 150km of this gap lies in Indian
But even this short gap is not
going to be easy to bridge.
network is one of the largest in the world. It
reaches out to the furthest corners of the
country. But strife-torn Manipur, tucked far away
in India's northeast, has seen little of this
rail-building activity. It was only in 1990 that
for the first time Manipur figured in India's
railway map when a railhead was set up at Jiribam.
For 14 years thereafter no rail construction took
place in the state. It was only in late 2004 when
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh laid the foundation
for the Jiribam-Imphal line that railway
construction in Manipur began. This line is
expected to be completed in 2010.
political situation in Myanmar is an important
hurdle in the way of the freight corridor,"
Phanjoubam told Asia Times Online. Myanmar's
military junta is wary of "too much openness and
is unlikely to welcome the rail project with open
arms". Both India and Thailand are enthusiastic
about the trans-Asian road and rail links, "but
the gray area is Myanmar", he said.
challenging as the political terrain in Myanmar is
the geographic terrain that the railroad will have
to cut through. Manipur is hilly. The terrain
across the border in Myanmar is even more
formidable. Rail lines will have to cross rivers
and cut through rugged mountains and thick
tropical jungle. Then there is the challenge of
different rail gauges. India has a 1,676mm gauge
while Myanmar uses a 1,000mm gauge.
insurgency in Manipur and the poor security
situation in the region are in part responsible
for the slow pace of progress in
railroad-construction activity there. Trains are
targets of insurgent