Railways has proposed to declare strategically significant Bilaspur-Manali-Leh line along the Indo-China border as a national project. It will be the world's highest railway track.
Emphasising on the importance of the project, a Railway official said the construction on a 51 kilometre stretch between Upshi in Himachal Pradesh and Phe in Leh should begin immediately.
"The first phase of the survey for the project has been completed and initial estimates put the cost of the 465 km line at Rs 83,360 crore. This is the most difficult project undertaken by the railways and is one of five most significant projects in terms of strategic importance.
"We have suggested that the project be declared a national project as once completed it will help our armed forces, as well as boost tourism and lead to the development of the region," said General Manager, Northern Railway, Vishesh Chaube.
The advantage of a project being declared a national project is that a major chink of the funding for the project is borne by the central government.
The project, which will have a highest road point of 5360 metres above mean sea level, is comparable only to the Qinghai-Tibet Railway Line in China, which is at a height of around 2000 metres above sea level.
It was in September that Thupstan Chhewang, the BJP MP from Leh, had written a letter to the Minister of Railways to seek national project status for the project.
"It would be of national interest to sanction this Bilaspur-Manali-Leh as a national project and undertake execution of its first part from Upshi to Leh may be started immediately on priority by the government after sanctioning its part estimate," he had written in the letter, a copy of which is with PTI.
The 51 kilometre stretch is a gentle gradient compared to the rest of the project and is likely to be completed in two years' time with an approximate cost of Rs 5,000 crore, said Alok Kumar, Chief Administrative officer, Construction, Northern Railway.
The line once completed will connect important locations between Bilaspur and Leh like Sundernagar, Mandi, Manali, Keylong, Koksar, Darcha, Upshi and Karu and other important towns of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir enroute.
The project will include 74 tunnels, 124 major bridges and 396 minor bridges, according to the first phase of the survey.
Once finished the line will reduce the distance between Delhi to Leh from the present 40 hours to 20 hours, Chaube said.
The final location survey is expected to be completed in 30 months' time after which a detailed project report will be finalised, he said.
( With inputs from PTI )