The national government of India, under the leadership of Narendra Modi, is now looking to come up with plans in order to improve the rail connectivity between the pilgrimage centres that make up Chardham. Indian Railways is expected to get started on a new railway line. The project has been named “Final Location Survey For Single Broad Gauge Line Rail Connectivity” and its foundation stone will be laid on May 13, 2017 by Suresh Prabhu, the Union Railway Minister of India. The government has also sanctioned INR 120.92 crore for the Final Location Survey in the union budget 2017-18. The Railway Ministry has stated that a public sector undertaking (PSU) named Rail Vikas Nigam Limited (RVNL) has been entrusted with the responsibility of carrying out the Final Location Survey for Chardham Yatra that includes Gangotri, Badrinath, Yamunotri, and Kedarnath through Karanprayag and Dehradun.
What is Chardham?
As far as pilgrimages in Hinduism are concerned, Chardham Yatra occupies a very-important place in this particular pantheon. It is related very closely to the spiritual and mystical aspirations that many religious-minded Hindus have. All the four dhams or centres of pilgrimage are located in the rugged mountains of Himalayas. It is expected that this would pose a major challenge for the railways to build the rail tracks while keeping in mind limits related to factors such as load, safety, capacity, and speed.
Some specific details
It is expected that on an average this line would scale heights in the region of 2000 m from sea level. As such it is expected to be a major architectural marvel as and when it is completed and readied for regular operation. As part of its Rail Connectivity Project, 2014-15, RVNL had undertaken a reconnaissance engineering survey (RES). As per the survey, it was found that in all the route would be 327 km long.
This new line is going to be a single broad gauge line. As has been said already, the terrain itself presents some unique challenges that the engineers would need to keep in mind. There are some problematic geological factors that are going to be at play as well. The four dhams have their separate heights and their spiritual importance tends to be different from one another as well. Yamunotri, a glacier that is supposedly where River Yamuna originates from, is said to be 3293 m above the mean sea level (MSL). Similarly, Gangotri, the glacier from which River Ganga originates, is 3408 m over MSL. Kedarnath houses the temple of Lord Shiva. It is said to be one of the 12 jyotirlingas and is 3583 m above MSL. Badrinath is where the shrine of Lord Vishnu is located. It is 3133 m above sea level.
At present, the nearest railway lines to the Chardham Yatra destinations are Doiwala, Karanprayag, and Rishikesh. All these are part of the new rail line being built between Rishikesh and Karanprayag by RVNL. On an average they are 400 to 825 m above sea level. Thus it can be understood that Indian Railways is taking on a significant challenge by trying to build railway lines at more than 2000 m above sea level.