Explained: A new line

Arun Janardhanan explains the features and significance of the railway line that PM Modi inaugurated in northern Sri Lanka on Saturday.

Written by Arun Janardhanan | Published: March 15, 2015 1:32:21 am
Narendra Modi waves at passengers in Talaimannar on Saturday. (PTI) Narendra Modi waves at passengers in Talaimannar on Saturday. (PTI)

What is the railway line that Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated on Saturday?

It is a 63-km track between Madhu Road, a town in northern Sri Lanka famous for the 350-year-old Roman Catholic Marian Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu, and Talaimannar, which is about 18 miles across the sea from Dhanushkodi, and is the Sri Lankan settlement that is geographically closest to India. The Madhu Road-Talaimannar line, which goes right up to Talaimannar Pier where Prime Minister Modi unveiled a plaque at the station, is the last segment of the prestigious 265-km Northern Railway Line Reconstruction Project. This stretch of the line has six stations, including Murukan, Mannar, Pesalai, Talaimannar, and Talaimannar Pier, and three sub-stations. The tracks are capable of running trains at speeds up to 120 km/h.

Why is this railway line significant in the process of political reconciliation in Sri Lanka and the restoration of democracy?

The opening of the Talaimannar link is part of the larger restoration of rail routes connecting the former war-ravaged northern provinces with Colombo and the southern parts of Sri Lanka after 25 years. The rail connectivity with Talaimannar was destroyed during the ethnic conflict. While the line will help bind Sri Lanka closer together, the planned return of ferry services between India and Sri Lanka will restore the sea link between Talaimannar and Rameswaram, and rekindle traditional trading activities, besides bringing hundreds of families on either side of the sea closer.

What role did India play in the reopening of the railway line?

In 2010, about a year after the final defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the end of the war, India bagged the contract to rebuild the destroyed railway line and telecommunications systems. The Indian Railway Construction (IRCON) International Ltd, an infrastructure construction company owned by the Ministry of Railways, began work on the Madhu-Talaimannar line on March 29, 2011. The project, carried out with financial assistance from India, has been completed at a cost of $ 149.7 million.

Is involvement in the rebuilding of former war-torn areas of Sri Lanka of any strategic significance to India?

Yes. Sri Lanka occupies a strategically critical location in the Indian Ocean, and China has been looking to invest deeply in the country and the region. China has been actively involved in Sri Lanka’s major infrastructure projects including the building of power plants, the modernization of Sri Lankan railways, and setting up satellite communication networks. India’s traditional ties with Sri Lanka have received a setback as a result of domestic politics in recent years, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit is also part of an effort to recover lost ground.

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