Bypass route: How Railways will get back Rs 27.5 bn lost due to Jharia fire

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To bring back its lost coal freight revenue, the ministry of railways has come out with a master plan to have a bypass rail route near the 35-kilometre line between Chandrapura and Dhanbad that was closed due to coal fire at Jharia coalfields in June. The new extension will be funded by state-run Coal India Ltd (CIL), the holding company of Bharat Coking Coal Ltd (BCCL) that operates the Jharia mines. 

The sudden closure of the line had wiped out more than Rs 27.5 billion of Railways revenue per annum. The Railways' engineering arm RITES is preparing a detailed project report for the new alignment. The Railways board will be approving the proposal on January 9.

The line, which was running through the Jharia coalfields area, was under threat of caving in due to an underground fire. On an average, the route used to carry around 25 million tonnes of coal traffic, a loss of which will lead to a loss of Rs 25 billion. The line also used to carry 12.4 million passengers, leading to an annual loss of around Rs 2.5 billion. In addition to this, the line used to carry substantial steel and iron ore traffic. 

"The bypass that we are planning is through Gomoh. The cost of diversion of the track will be known after the RITES report," said a government official close to the development. 

The Railways has sanctioned an elevated rail track costing Rs 2.5 billion at Gomoh with two additional connections to the Matari station for a smooth traffic flow. Including the additional rail connections, the total project cost is expected to be around Rs 5 billion. 

"The decision to shut down the line was on the directions of the Director General of Mine Safety (DGMS). According to the coal ministry, only 14 km out of 35 km of the line is unsafe. So the plan is to bypass that stretch of 14 km. We are already running a few passenger trains till the last safe points," the official added. Following the closure of the route, the Railways had diverted at least seven daily mail and express trains to other routes while the remaining trains were cancelled. Officials added that once the detailed project report is ready, East Central Railway Zone and Dhanbad Railway division will start talks with the state governments for early acquisition of land and work will be taken up on priority.

The Railways was forced to shut down the Dhanbad to Jharia route in 2007 owing to a similar coal fire situation. The route is likely to be safe for operations from 2022 onwards. Despite taking several steps, only around 10 fires out of 80 have been extinguished since the nationalisation of mines in 1971.

Affected Railways stretch:

1) Within Bansjora station limit (after 7 km from Dhanbad) 

2) Between Sijua-Katrasgarh (after 11 km)

3) Between Katrasgarh—Sonardih (near Tetulia Halt after 16 km)

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