The Bhutan government too, on its part, has taken initiatives to assist the NFR with the project that would provide the first railhead to the neighbouring country.
“The survey for the first rail connectivity to Bhutan has started and will end by March next year. It is being done to extend the rail track from Kokrajhar (in Assam) to Gelephu (in Sarpang district, Bhutan). Once the project is sanctioned, the work would be complete in two to two-and-ahalf years,” said an NFR official.
The new route, railway sources said, will be 57.5km long.
Over the past few years, Bhutan has been highlighting the need to have rail connectivity in the country.
It would facilitate Bhutan’s foreign trade with India and neighbouring countries like Bangladesh.
“Representatives of the Bhutan government have recently visited north Bengal and want to use our railway network to export their goods to Bangladesh by using routes like Changrabandha (on the India-Bangla border in Cooch Behar). Recently, a fleet of cars imported to Bhutan was brought to Hasimara station of Alipurduar and taken to the country via road. In such a context, the project to connect Bhutan via rail has become more important,” the official added.
The Bhutan government, sources said, has also taken certain initiatives to expedite the Kokrajhar-Gelephu rail project, for which around Rs 1,000 crores is likely to be spent.
For this, the ministry of information and communication of the country —the principal ministry looking after the project — has formed a team of members of the ministry and those from the ministry of work and human settlement.
The government, in association with the NFR, is also carrying out tasks such as identifying routes, docking points and locations for other ancillary infrastructure.
Sources said Gelephu is closer to eastern Bhutan and places like Phuentsholing and Samtse, the principal locations from where Bhutan exports goods.
Till now, Bhutan carries out its foreign trade through roads.
“As the country uses this sole mode (roadways) to transport goods, the cost of transport and logistics is high. If railway services start in the country, the cost (of transport and logistics) will be relatively cheaper and movement of goods faster,” said Surajit Paul, the representative of a trade body based in Siliguri.
Along with Bhutan, the NFR is also working in the east and Northeast India to extend railway connectivity to neighbouring countries of Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar.
“Last year, the Haldibari-Chilahati route to Bangladesh was opened. Work is in progress for two other routes and we hope both will be ready by March 2023,” said a railway official.