Steaming Ahead: Sikkim’s First Rail Project to Boost Connectivity by 2024

sivok rangpo rail project

By 2024, Sikkim is set to witness a significant enhancement in its connectivity as it prepares to introduce its first train service and join the national network. This landmark railway project will connect Sivok in West Bengal and Rangpo in Sikkim. Referred to as the Sivok-Rangpo rail project, this endeavour represents a monumental undertaking of great significance.

Initially scheduled for 2009, the project experienced significant delays due to challenges associated with land acquisition and environmental clearances. Consequently, the estimated investment of Rs 1339.5 crores at the project’s inception has now escalated to Rs 4085.6 crores.

The proposed railway route will traverse the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary and Darjeeling, Kurseong, Kalimpong, and East Sikkim forests. Notably, the key feature of this project is that an impressive 86% of the route will be comprised of tunnels.

The train route will encompass a combination of bridges and tunnels. Along its length, the project will include five stations, including an underground station at Teesta Bazar in West Bengal. Additionally, the route will incorporate 14 tunnels, 14 major bridges, and eight smaller bridges. The stretch between Melli and Rangpo, spanning 17.6 kilometres, will be the longest between the two stations. The longest bridge along the route will extend approximately 375 meters, while the longest tunnel will measure around 5.13 kilometres.

In March 2023, Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw personally inspected the tunnels and commended the team for their exemplary work. He further announced plans to extend the railway line to Gangtok and Nathula Pass, situated at the Indo-Chinese border. This extension holds strategic significance from a defence standpoint, enabling swift mobilization of the Indian Army in the region.

Presently, the most viable mode of transportation to Sikkim is the road, which is prone to disruptions during the monsoon season due to landslides. Furthermore, the road route serves as the sole access point to Sikkim. Although the Pakyong Airport has been established, it only caters to limited destinations, operates subject to favourable weather conditions, and entails higher airfare than the Bagdogra Airport, where most Sikkim-bound travellers book their flights.

As someone who has frequently travelled from Siliguri to Sikkim, I have personally encountered significant traffic congestion on the road, often experiencing delays of over five hours during peak tourist seasons. However, with the completion of the Sivok-Rangpo rail project expected by 2024, the journey time will be reduced to less than two hours. This will enable passengers to save time by opting for the train ride and subsequently hiring a vehicle to reach Gangtok or other locations in Sikkim. Interestingly, this development is anticipated to alleviate traffic congestion during peak travel periods.

The implications of this project extend beyond improved connectivity and convenience. It will afford India’s defence forces a tactical advantage in the region while fostering increased tourism, facilitating transportation of goods, expanding trade opportunities, and nurturing economic growth in the state. Furthermore, the railway infrastructure will provide reliable and comfortable travel for travellers, ensuring all-weather connectivity to Sikkim and significantly reducing travel time.

Pema Choden Bhutia is a Research Scholar at Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai. Her research interests include tourism, ecotourism, environmental valuation techniques and tourist preferences.

Email: [email protected]

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