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Hassan-Mangalore line conversion back on track

MANGALORE, JAN. 9. Broadgauge conversion of the Hassan-Mangalore railway line appears to be getting the right signals following the formation of the Hassan-Mangalore Railway Development Company and the willingness of the Karnataka Railway Infrastructure Development Enterprise (K-RIDE) to release money for the speedy completion of the work.

This important line has the potential to change the face of Karnataka, particularly the southern region, and improve linkages with Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

It was in 1996 that Southern Railway decided to replace the narrow-gauge line. But the project lost track, with governments at the Centre being short-lived, until recently when the Mangalore-Kabaka Puttur section of the line was opened by the Railway Minister, Nitish Kumar.

The line now prominently features among the projects such as the Kottur-Harihar and Hubli-Ankola line, doubling of Bangalore-Kengeri, Kengeri-Ramnagaram, and Guntakal-Hospet lines, and Solapur-Gadag gauge conversion being taken up under the K-RIDE. It is a welcome sign that the enterprise has agreed to share one-third the cost of the Hassan-Mangalore gauge conversion.

The shareholders' agreements in respect of K-RIDE and the company, the first project-specific special purpose vehicle, have already been signed.

The other agreements for the company have also been approved by the Ministry of Railways.

The hope of getting funds for the work has opened up a gamut of issues that pertains to the development of the hinterland of the New Mangalore Port. The hinterland, which is one of the largest available among those of 11 major ports the country, consists of entire South Karnataka comprising Dakshina Kannada, Udupi, Hassan, Chikmgalur, Shimoga, Bellary, Davangere, Udupi, Bangalore, Tumkur, Kodagu, and Mysore, and Kasargod and Kannur of Kerala.

The major coffee growing areas in the country such as Kodagu, Chikmagalur, and Hassan are only 200 km. of the port. But due to the lack of facilities for mass carriage of containerised coffee products, the entire container business is going to the Tuticorin and Chennai ports. The Kanara Chamber of Commerce and Industry has been pressing for completion of the broadgauge conversion for a long time.

The chamber estimates that the coffee industry has the potential of transporting 80,000 tonnes of the produce a year from the port if the railway line is opened.

The hinterland also has various industries which churns out products with overseas markets such as light machinery, auto parts, processed food and fruit pulp, and value-added cashew and tobacco products.

With the Konkan Railway line passing through Kankanady, about 12 km. from the Mangalore Railway station, the Hassan-Mangalore line will open up a new route from Bangalore to Mumbai and Goa, which will cut travel time and boost tourism. The travel time between Mangalore and Chennai distance will also be cut by eight hours if Mangalore-Chennai trains are routed via Hassan and Bangalore.

N. Yogish Bhat, MLA, that the Government was committed to giving two-thirds of the project cost which had been estimated at Rs. 120 crore.

The Centre had already released its share of Rs. 40 crore. The rest had to be given by the user organisations and financial institutions.

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