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Unigauge sorely needed in Southern Railway

By Our Staff Reporter

MADURAI, DEC. 20. The residual metre gauge (MG) routes that extend to more than 1,600 km in Madurai and Tiruchi divisions of the Southern Railway are worrying passengers who feel they are not connected with northern destinations.

A major part of the 40 per cent of MG tracks in the zone runs through these two divisions, forcing passengers to change trains frequently. Of the five divisions, the Chennai, Palghat and Tiruvananthapuram divisions have almost been converted to broad gauge (BG) in full.

Meagre allocation

Though some of the conversion projects were sanctioned many years ago, the work progressed at a snail's pace owing to a meagre allocation of funds. For instance, not even half of the 357-km Madurai-Kollam and the 162-km Madurai-Rameswaram projects, sanctioned in 1997-98, are complete.

A few vital routes, such as the Dindigul-Coimbatore/Palghat, Madurai-Bodinayakkanur and Virudhunagar-Manamadurai sections, have not been included in the gauge conversion programme at all. The 150-km Tiruchi-Manamadurai project, sanctioned in 2000-2001, is still at its preliminary stages.

The Madurai-Dindigul broad gauge doubling project, sanctioned two years ago, is yet to take off. The utility of this section, which is part of the most profitable Nagercoil-Chennai-Egmore corridor, has crossed 160 per cent.

"We operate an average of 24 express trains daily on this section, apart from passenger and goods trains. The traffic density is so high that there is not much time left for maintenance work. A one-time allocation of funds should be made to expedite this project," a senior railway official said, adding that gauge doubling had also become imperative on the Madurai-Virudhunagar section.

Even the ongoing projects had to be stalled at certain places owing to technical reasons. "A decision on constructing a new bridge across the sea between Mandapam and Rameswaram and laying a new track on the Shencottah-Punalur ghat section is yet to be taken."

Officials say even if a target of 250 km per year is fixed for gauge conversion, it will take not less than ten years to have an unigauge system in Southern Railway, since some MG routes are yet to be taken up for administrative sanction.

Pilgrimage convenience

"If the Dindigul-Coimbatore/Palghat line is converted, the passengers will not only get the benefit of the Konkan Railway and shorter access to Western and Central Railways, but also an alternative route to Chennai. Unigauge will provide inter-port connectivity and serve other trade interests," a frequent traveller pointed out.

Moreover, a direct link could be established from the northern States to the pilgrim centres of Palani, Rameswaram, Thanjavur, Kumbakonam, Nagore and Nagapattinam, which are all connected by MG now, he added.

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