Express press service
The Railway Board and Government of Kerala have continued to ignore strong criticism that plans to build SilverLine as a stand-alone line on (British) standard gauge is technically unfeasible. The Center is responsible for providing efficient rail transportation across the country. It is therefore surprising that the state government accepted the Council’s condition that the state bear the full cost of this massive and technically complex railway project, as well as its profits and losses.
Man’s endeavor to climb to the top of Mount Everest, reach the South Pole, or circumnavigate the earth by sea could not have succeeded without a good understanding of the challenges ahead. The Golmud-Lhasa line to the roof of the world, crossing about 1,000 km of permafrost, is the result of years of research on how to build an all-weather line on permafrost. A line to carry trains at 200 km/h – twice the speed of existing lines in the region – along the unfavorable terrain of the mid-highlands of Kerala on a track gauge significantly narrower than the Indian Broad Gauge would be undoubtedly very difficult.
According to the plan prepared by the General Consultant (GC) of Kerala Rail Development Corporation Ltd (K-Rail), a company based in France, SilverLine will be full of high embankments, cuts and bridges/viaducts and more than 100 tunnels, the mostly on weak ground and unstable slopes of complex alternating wetland and upland terrain that has experienced devastating flooding in three of the past four years. Due to the high speed, the line must be built with high accuracy in track geometry and stability.
The GC had engaged the author as a lead consultant to guide its team of experts in the preparation of the preliminary feasibility report. The report warned K-Rail against building standard-gauge SilverLine, taking stations to the outskirts of major cities – meaning driving the line deeper into the highlands region – in the interest of real estate development. in and around stations. However, after the author’s departure, K-Rail managed to get the GC to ignore the recommendations and prepare the (final) feasibility report without the mandatory field surveys and ridership survey, and used Google Earth’s inaccurate topographic data to prepare the alignment. The feasibility report was prepared in less than 50 days.
Although the report was prepared in violation of its codes of practice, the council granted approval in principle which carries with it authority to spend up to 100 crores on pre-construction activities, including preparations for the acquisition of land. So much for the diligence in planning this extremely difficult line.
If the line is built broad gauge, the Ministry of Railways will have to bear most of the costs and profit/loss.
The state plans to fund SilverLine with a 30-50 year loan with repayment beginning after 10-15 years. This begs the question: should the state build a line that, given the facts of the entire planning process, would be a white elephant whose burden will be borne by future generations.
(The author retired from the India Railway Service of Engineers and was the team leader who conducted the preliminary feasibility study of SilverLine)
Due to the difference in gauge, SilverLine will have no connection with the broad gauge railway network for train interoperability. As opposition to the project grew and the preparation of the feasibility report and DPR came to light, the Ministry of Railways refused to share any financial responsibility for the autonomous line.