bhutan plans own electric train
Two new reports to be presented to the cabinet next month says that an electric train is feasible to meet the needs of various mega projects coming up in southern Bhutan
At a time when the much hyped rail project from Hasimara to Phuentsholing is seeing a slow death, upcoming towns and industrial centers across the southern belt could be connected with an electric train whizzing from Samtse townto Jampani village in Samdrup Jongkhar
The strategic assessment documents for the 6,000 MW Punatsangchu Basin and the Dham Dhum Industrial estate in Samtse recommend an electric train within Bhutan’s southern borders.
Both reports say that an electrical train could be an optimal transport solution for southern Bhutan. “It requires limited land take, is easily controlled and managed and can serve to move goods and passengers including trucks on flatbeds to strategic connections to north and south trunk roads,” one report said.
“We actually proposed a train service within our borders since trains will be much more efficient in transportation. They will be faster than road transport,” said Tshering Gyeltshen, an executive engineer with the roads department. He also said it would be a much better alternative to the Indian roads along the southern border.
Since the train will have to travel in a straight line, tunnels would be required in some places though it would be more difficult in fragile areas near Pasakha.
The train will draw power from the current and future hydro projects. The Dham Dhum report says that by 2014 the electric railway will have been planned and a feasibility study carried out. A financing plan for the proposed railway will also have been prepared and presented to financing partners.
The electric train proposal got support from local leaders, residents, business houses, and officials from Thimphu while preparing the two strategic assessment reports.
The train project is significant in the light of around 450 kilometers not connected even after the various highway projects.
Energy department engineer and project manager for the Sunkosh project, Karma Penjor, said, “The electric train will be on the lines of the technology of the Delhi metro train or any normal electric train where a power line parallel to the tracks will supply power to the train.”
He said the original proposal was for a diesel train but it was felt that an electric train would be better as there would be no dependence on fossil fuel; it would be cheaper to operate as a mass transit and would be environmental friendlier.
The electric train would cut down the cost of transportation compared to using trucks. It would reduce conventional transport by 20%.
“Today, an electric train is not viable given the costs and the lack of any industrial, SEZ or other developments in the south or central Bhutan. However, it will eventually be viable as demand is driven by the need for transport to support economic activities in the future,” said Karma Penjor.
The National Environment Commission, Gross National Happiness Commission and Land Commission compiled the reports in cooperation with the economic affairs, and works and human settlement ministries and the local public.
“The reports have planned the entire project areas in 5, 10, 15 and 20 year scenarios based on stakeholder participation where a railway is planned 5 to 10 years down the line,” said the GNHC assistant planning officer, Tshering Penjor.
He said that the proposal for an electric train came from stakeholders of both the groups of the Punatsangchu basin and the Dham Dhum industrial estate.
He explained, “These mega projects will not just influence the immediate area but will also have an effect on the nearby dzongkhags and moreover the plan for the electric train must keep in mind developments in other towns as well.”
Apart from the 4,000 MW Sunkosh project at Kalikhola, in the coming years, large industrial estates are planned at, Dham Dhum and Motanga and Jigmeling (see the other detailed story on Page 1). Towns like Samtse, Sipsoo, Phuentsholing, Pasakha, Kalikhola, Sarpang, Gelephu, Nganglam, Samdrup Jongkhar and Daifam will be part of the plan. The electric train is expected to snake through these major towns and industrial estates enhancing catering to growing transportation demands. The train could also be complimented by domestic airports at Kalikhola and Sipsoo.
This also follows in the wake of a Business Bhutan article last week that showed that land acquisition politics between the Trinamool Congress and the ruling CPI (M) could derail the Indo-Bhutan railway project linking Hashimara to Toribari near Phuentsholing.
“Within the 20 years time period an electric train is very feasible given the industrial development and transportation needs,” said Tshering Penjor.
The impact of the railway would only be during the construction phase limited to some land acquisition, deforestation and construction waste, the reports say.
Though some part of the railway will be going through national parks, it is not expected to pose any threat to wildlife due to speed restrictions in conservation areas.
The railway would be a single parallel track with double tracks at intervals to allow the safe crossing of trains from the opposite direction. The construction of train would use materials from existing quarries.