SilverLine: experts differ over gauge of tracks

A call for replacing proposed standard gauge line with broad gauge

Even as the Kerala Railway Development Corporation (KRDCL) says much headway has been made to commence land acquisition and to avail itself of loans for the 530-km SilverLine semi-high-speed railway project, a senior official associated with readying its preliminary feasibility report has suggested replacement of standard gauge line with broad gauge to bring about inter-operability with the existing rail network.

This will enable operation of express trains also through the alignment of the ₹63,941-crore project, since Railways have locomotives capable of attaining speed of up to 200 km per hour, says Alok Kumar Verma, who retired in 2016 as Chief Engineer from the Railways.

He has been sharing his expertise with the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP), which had sought reconsideration of SilverLine and steps to speed up train movement along the existing tracks.

KRDCL (or K-Rail) officials are of the view that standard gauge is crucial to obtain loan from multilateral agencies. “It is noteworthy that there is no difference between standard gauge (SG) and broad gauge (BG) in terms of the size of coaches/wagons, passenger/freight carrying capacity, and speed potential. A stand-alone line on an alien gauge (SG), unconnected to the existing rail network which has BG, could have many repercussions,” Mr. Verma says.

“This will make it a costly stand-alone line, disconnected from the existing rail network. This could even impact the project’s ridership and, hence, its feasibility. For this, a scientific traffic survey must be conducted,” he says.

‘SG futuristic’

Responding to this, V. Ajith Kumar, Managing Director of K-Rail, says SG is the norm the world over, except in South Asia and a few countries in Latin America. “This is the reason it will be relied on for the upcoming Mumbai-Ahmedabad-Rajkot, Delhi-Meerut rail corridors, and a couple of other high/semi-high speed rail corridors . This is because existing broad-gauge tracks have an upper speed limit of 160 km/hr.”

China was able to usher in thousands of km of high-speed rail since it has SG tracks. Moreover, foreign soft loans can be availed only for proven high-speed technology. Moreover, a sleeker rail corridor can be built for SG tracks. This lessens the construction cost by around 10%. Rakes for SG tracks are indigenously available, just like for BG lines. Put short, SG was chosen since it is futuristic and tender documents have been readied keeping this in mind, he says.

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