A connectivity pact, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) Railway Agreement, is being explored while India is expanding railway links with its neighbours through the Northeast.
Delivering an address at the two-day Economic Cooperation Dialogue in Eastern South Asia here, director (transport) of the Railway Board, Mukul Kumar, said while this network is being explored, the draft of the SAARC Regional Railway Agreement is being finalised at the SAARC forum.
The dialogue has been jointly organised by United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), the Meghalaya government and the North Eastern Council. Delegates from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal and the northeastern states are taking part in the programme.
Kumar said the objectives of the Regional Railway Agreement include facilitation of cross-border transportation of goods and people and facilitation of an efficient multi-modal transport system for integration and sustaining the economic growth and competitiveness of the region.
The other objectives include furtherance of economic integration of the region and implementation of the relevant portions of the agreement on South Asian Free Trade Area.
For connectivity with Bangladesh, he said the Agartala-Akhaura New Line (Trans-Asian railways missing link) is undertaken while with Nepal two projects – Jogbani-Biratnagar link and Jayanagar-Bijalpura gauge conversion to Bardibas have been sanctioned.
The likely date of completion of the 15km Akhaura-Agartala railway project is 2018-19.
For the Jogbani (India)-Biratnagar (Nepal) new line project of 18.6km, the period for completion is two years on receipt of encumbrance-free land.
Moreover, Kumar said the missing rail link between India and Myanmar is from Jiribam-Moreh (Indian side) and Tamu-Kaley (Myanmar portion). The alignment is also part of the southern corridor of the Trans-Asian Railway network, he said.
He said Indian Railways has undertaken the new 110km line project between Jiribam and Imphal while it is surveying the remaining portion of the missing 111km link between Imphal and Moreh. Kumar said for connectivity with Myanmar, the Jiribam-Imphal new link is under construction and a survey has been undertaken for linking Imphal-Moreh. This link, he said will connect Indian Railways with Myanmar Railways in future.
Moreover, he said the UN-ESCAP-Istanbul-Tehran-Islamabad container train service is already operational, and there is a proposal to extend the same to Calcutta and Dhaka, which could then make the South Asian region a major trade hub.
Kumar said the key challenges in cross-border railway transport include congestion and delays at border stations, complex border-crossing procedures and lack of harmonisation in the documents required for different countries, different operating rules and tariff structures, lack of qualified manpower to operate cross-border trains and others.
The BBIN Motor Vehicle Agreement for the Regulation of Passenger, Personal and Cargo Vehicular Traffic among Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Myanmar was signed in June 2015.
The agreement envisages promoting safe, economical efficient and environmentally sound road transport in the sub-region and will further help each country in creating an institutional mechanism for regional integration. BBIN countries will benefit from mutual cross-border movement of passenger and goods for overall economic development of the region.
The people of the four countries will benefit through seamless movement of goods and passenger across borders.
As far as railway projects being undertaken in the Northeast are concerned, Kumar said there are 18 ongoing projects in the region covering 2,254km.
The likely date of completion of most of the projects ranges from 2016-17 to 2019-2020.