Coming soon to the Himalayas, the world’s highest rail line

by Elton Gomes

At 5,360 metres above sea level, India will be building the world’s highest rail line. Besides being the world’s highest railway track, the Bilaspur-Manali-Leh rail line will be equipped with other facilities for the first time in India.

The 465-km line, to be built at a cost of Rs 83,360 crore, will include India’s first underground railway station in Keylong. The proposed railway line passes through the Shivaliks, Himalayas, and the Zanskar range as well as four mountain passess – Rohtang La, Barlacha La, Lachung La, and Tangla La.

What will the project include

The project will reportedly include a total of 74 tunnels, 124 major bridges, and 396 minor bridges, as per the first phase. It is expected that the railways will complete the project by 2022 as it would take around two years to complete.

The railways has been seeking help from the US for satellite imagery to survey the route and it will also employ the Lidar method to gain understanding of the geology of the entire route.

“We can start construction to showcase Indian Railway’s presence in the valley. The railway line will provide relief for locals as well as Army personnel living there,” Alok Kumar, who is overseeing the project, told the Hindustan Times.

The Bilaspur-Manali-Leh railway line will connect Sundernagar, Mandi, Manali, Keylong, Koksar, Darcha, Upshi, and Karu as well as other important towns in Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir.

The railway line’s elevation will start at Bilaspur at a height of 500 metres and will culminate at Leh at an elevation of 3,215 metres. The highest road point (Tanglang La Pass) enroute at 5,360 meters will be the highest of any railway in the world. More than 50 percent of the railway line will be underground with a 27-km long tunnel near Manali.

“The line is strategically important and will provide all-weather surface connectivity to far-flung areas of Ladakh region. It will also boost tourist inflow, which will be beneficial for the local population. Travel time will reduce by half, the rail project will be executed in a way that it need not close during extreme weather,” chief engineer of the project, Desh Ratan said, India Today reported.

The final location survey of the 465-km line is currently being conducted. Keeping in mind the difficult terrain, it could take at least two years to complete, after which the project will be sent for approval.

Railways want the rail line to be declared as national project

Railway officials Wednesday proposed that due to its strategical significance, the Bilaspur-Manali-Leh line should be declared a national project.

“We have suggested that the project be declared a national project as once completed it will help our armed forces, as well as boost tourism and lead to the development of the region,” Vishesh Chaube, general manager of the Northern Railway, told PTI.

In September, Thupstan Chhewang, a BJP MP from Leh, wrote to the minister of railways to seek national project status for the project.

“It would be of national interest to sanction this Bilaspur-Manali-Leh as a national project and undertake execution of its first part from Upshi to Leh may be started immediately on priority by the government after sanctioning its part estimate,” Chhewang wrote in his letter, as per the PTI report.

After completion, the Bilaspur-Manali-Leh rail line will be the highest in the world, and will be comparable only with the Qinghai-Tibet railway line in China, which is at a height of roughly 2,000 metres above sea level.

Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius

HimalayasIndian RailwaysLehManali