Thursday, August 18, 2011

China surpasses India in building railways to Himalayas

India's struggle to build a railway to troubled Kashmir has become a symbol of the infrastructure gap with neighbouring China, whose speed in building road and rail links is giving it a strategic edge on the mountainous frontier.
Nearly quarter of a century after work began on the project aimed at integrating the revolt-torn territory and bolstering the supply route for troops deployed there, barely a quarter of the 345-km (215-mile) Kashmir track has been laid.

Tunnels collapsed, funds dried up and, faced with the challenge of laying tracks over the 11,000 foot (3,352 metre) Pir Panjal range, railway officials and geologists bickered over the route, with some saying it was just too risky.

The proposed train, which will run not far from the heavily militarised border with Pakistan, has also faced threats from militants fighting Indian rule in the disputed region, with engineers kidnapped in the early days of the project.

China's rail system has been plagued by scandal. A bullet train crash in July killed 40 people and triggered a freeze on new rail project approvals, but the country managed to build the 1,140-km (710-mile) Qinghai-Tibet line, which crosses permanently frozen ground and climbs to more than 5,000 metres above sea level, in five years flat.

It has also built bitumen roads throughout its side of the frontier, making it easier for Chinese troops to move around -- and mass there, if confrontation ever escalates.

Indians have long fretted about the economic advantages that China gains from its infrastructure expertise. But the tale of India's hardships in building the railway line also shows how China's mastery of infrastructure could matter in the territorial disputes that still dog relations.
Sanjeev Miglani at Reuters. Here

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