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To bring back lost coal freight revenue, the ministry of railways has prepared a scheme for a bypass rail route near the 35-km line between Chandrapura and Dhanbad that was closed due to underground fire at the Jharia (Jharkhand) coalfields in June. This will be funded by government-owned Coal India, holding company of Bharat Coking Coal that operates the Jharia mines. Closure of the line meant an annual estimated loss for the railways of at least Rs 27.5 billion. RITES, the railways’ engineering arm, was asked to do the detailed project report and the Railway Board is expected to approve the proposal the coming week. The earlier line went through Jharia and was under threat of caving in due to underground fire. On an average, the route used to carry around 25 million tonnes of coal traffic a year, the annual loss of which was Rs 25 billion. The line also used to carry 12.4 million passengers a year, leading to annual loss of around Rs 2.5 billion. In addition, it carried steel and iron ore. “The bypass that we are planning is through Gomoh. The cost of diversion will be known after the RITES report,” said a government official.
The Railways have sanctioned an elevated rail track costing Rs 2.5 billion at Gomoh, with two additional connections to the Matari station for smooth traffic. With 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 Mines Safety. According to the coal ministry, only 14 km of the 35 km line is unsafe. The plan is to bypass that stretch of 14 km. We are already running a few passenger trains till the last safe points,” he added. After the closure, the railways had diverted seven daily mail and express trains to other routes, while the remaining ones were cancelled. Officials say once the project report is ready, the East Central Zone and Dhanbad railway division will start talks with the state government for early acquisition of land and work will be taken up on priority. The railways had to shut the Dhanbad to Jharia route in 2007 for a similar reason. It is likely to be safe for operations from 2022 onwards. Only around 10 underground fires out of 80 have been extinguished since the government take over of coal mines in 1971.