India is set to lose Asia’s first narrow-gauge railway line between Dhaboi and Miyagam in Gujarat, operational since the 19th Century. Considering its heritage value, and the fact that it does not add to present railway requirements in any significant way, the Railway Board in June had marked this line for preservation as an invaluable piece of industrial heritage.
But Western Railway, which has jurisdiction over this line, has refused to preserve it as heritage. It wrote to Railway Board this week, contending that the work of converting this line into broad gauge and linking it to the main line was sanctioned in 2011-12, and that portions of that work has already started.
Arguing in favour of gauge conversion, the zone has said that once converted, this 33-km section will reduce congestion in Vadodara. A total 13 tenders for this work has been awarded, amounting to Rs 110 crore, the Western Railway stated. “After the completion of gauge conversion… it will permanently remove the bottleneck in Vadodara and will bring operational flexibility and punctuality,” the note to the ministry said.
The Railway Board, including Member (Engineering), Financial Commissioner, and Railway Board chairman Ashwani Lohani had identified this, as well as four other lines connecting it, for preservation since they handle negligible traffic.
Commercially working narrow-gauge lines are pretty much nonexistent in the world, other than some hill railways in India, and this is an effort by the Railways to save them from extinction. All the lines are in Gujarat, totalling 204 km, and were originally owned by the princely state’s Gaekwad Baroda State Railway.
The zonal railway had been asked for comments on feasibility of the proposed move. The 33-km Dhaboi-Miyagam line, for instance, has only two trains running every day. “Hence it is advised that this section should not be preserved as heritage line,” it has written.
Similarly, of the five lines identified for preservation, the Western Railway has objected to preserving the 51-km Pratapnagar-Jambusar section, arguing that this has been sanctioned for gauge conversion and if this line remains a narrow gauge, continuity of broad-gauge line from Bharuch/Dahesh to Chhota Udepur will be broken.
It has, however, agreed to preserving three smaller branch lines: 38-km Miyagam-Choranda-Malsar section; 19-km Choranda-Moti Koral; and 63-km Bilimora-Waghai section.
Western Railway has proposed that a 9.5-km section between Patalpani and Kalakund may be taken up for preservation as a narrow gauge line.