Both Cuttack and Puri would soon have world-class Railway Stations. While this is a welcome development, it was long overdue. Many important Railway Stations of Odisha still have very limited facilities and look almost out of date compared to the fast emerging swanky commodious station complexes mushrooming all over the country.
These station complexes have emerged as viable commercial centres. It is worth mentioning that the Jharsuguda Railway Station is among the few oldest in Odisha having been in operation since 1891, before even Cuttack and Puri Stations came into existence in 1899 and 1897, respectively. Both Balasore and Berhampur Railway Stations too became operational earlier, in 1896.
These three ancient Railway Stations, older than Cuttack and Puri, deserve world-class facilities as well. Another Railway Station that deserves a much better infrastructure is Koraput, the nerve center of the southern part of Odisha.
Odisha has suffered for decades from a poor railway network. For the export of iron ore to Japan, in 1960, Indian Railway took up three projects---(i) the Kottavalasa–Koraput–Jeypore–Kirandaul line,(ii) the Titlagarh–Bolangir– Sambalpur Project and (iii) the Rourkela–Kiriburu Project. All three projects taken together were popularly known as the DBK Project or the Dandakaranya Bolangir Kiriburu Project.
The Kottavalsa‐Kirandul line, famously known as K‐K line was an engineering marvel for its construction on a treacherous hilly terrain but was completed in 1968. The line had many tunnels including the 4422 metre-long Malliguda Railway Tunnel near Jeypore. It was built in 1963 and was Indian Railway’s longest tunnel in 1963. Later, a few longer tunnels have been built in the country and Malliguda tunnel is now the tenth longest. Bondomunda- Barsuan line was constructed by 1961 and Bimalagarh-Kiriburu line was completed by 1964. Sambalpur-Bolangir-Titlagarh line was done by 1963. Odisha thus had a huge addition to its rail network through the DBK project. The fact that the lines passing through very difficult terrain could be completed within 7/8 years was indeed an engineering marvel and displayed professionalism of outstanding order.
The project also created the country’s longest tunnel of nearly 4.5 kms long. As against this performance, most ongoing Rail-line projects in Odisha are languishing for decades. The situation is all the more serious because the rail density in the state continues to be low-- about 16 KM per one thousand sq km of land while several states like Punjab, Tamil Nadu, UP, WB, Haryana, and Bihar have densities between 30 and 40 KM. Fortunately, however, the state is at present having a fair share of new railway projects. What the state badly needs is a Mission Mode approach for a few of the ongoing projects and ensure their completion within 2/3 years. Critical links like Talcher-Bimalagarh, Gunupur- Theruvali, Khurda-Bolangir, Budhamara-Chakulia, Kiriburu-Barbil, and Jeypore-Nabarangpur- Junagarh deserve utmost priority. The prevailing open-ended completion schedule has made the state suffer badly.
In the meantime, Vande Bharat Express made its entry into Odisha and a new era of rail travel commenced on May 18 with the formal flagging off of the Howrah-bound Vande Bharat Express at Puri. Undoubtedly, this service will be the most sought-after rail-journey experience for people of coastal Odisha. Apart from travellers from Kolkata to Puri or from Bhubaneswar/Cuttack to Kolkata, many people who now regularly travel between Bhubaneswar and Balasore or between Bhubaneswar and Puri would prefer to travel by Vande Bharat rather than by their own car or by a hired vehicle.
The Train is expected to run with high occupancy and surely would be tourist friendly. During the flagging off function at Puri, the Railway Minister hinted at another Vande Bharat Express for the state between Puri and Rourkela through Angul and Sambalpur. Though it is premature to speculate when the service would commence, it is likely that the waiting time would not be too long. In the meantime, many new routes are being finalized. Some interstate connections through Odisha may benefit the state. Both the state government and the Ministry of Railways should work towards this objective. For example, the proposed link between Howrah and Jamshedpur should be extended up to Rourkela or even Sambalpur. Similarly, the proposed Vijayawada- Vishakhapatnam link could be extended up to Bhubaneswar. There is a strong case for connecting Raipur with Vishakhapatnam and Ranchi with Vishakhapatnam. These links could benefit important Odisha cities like Berhampur, Sambalpur, Bargarh, Bolangir, Titilagarh, and Rayagada.
The other important area that merits the attention of the Hon’ble Railway Minister relates to the strengthening of many important railway lines within the state for train speeds of 130 km per hour. Most railway lines are freight lines- routes that support an operational speed of much less than 110 km/hr. For example, it takes the fastest train, Rajya Rani Express – Train Number 18118—2 hrs 16 minutes to cover a distance of 90 km from Gunupur to Naupada with only one halt. That works out to a speed of only 40 km per hour—an anachronism in the present state of the world where speedy travel is the norm. Train Number 58151, Biramitrapur-Barsuan Passenger covers a distance of 96 km in 3 hours 25 minutes. Important railway lines within Odisha should be fast upgraded as Group B lines which support an operational speed between 110 and 130 km/hr. Gunupur-Naupada, Raipur-Vishakhapatnam, Rupsa-Bangiriposhi, Cuttack-Paradip, Sambalpur-Titilagarh, Rourkela-Hatia, and Cuttack-Sambalpur, Rourkela-Barsuan lines should receive priority.
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)