In what should be good news for lakhs of travellers on the Konkan Railway, an initial study has concluded that it would be feasible to lay a second line on sections of the route that run on the plains.
"We are planning to go for patch doubling (railway lingo for laying new tracks on sections where it is possible) and the initial estimate for the work is being worked out," said Vaishali Patange, chief spokesperson of the Konkan Railway.
The 741km single-line Konkan Railway route was opened in 1998 and has become one of the busiest in the country within a decade and a half, compelling the authorities to consider augmenting the track capacity. But the geographical aspect and the huge cost this would entail have restricted any progress so far.
According to a study conducted over the past few months, doubling the track is possible on about 300 km that runs on the plains. For example, the 47km from the starting point at Roha to Veer. The 60km stretch between Udupi and Mangalore is another stretch. There are several other patches in between, officials said.
The route is very popular among those headed to Goa or Mangalore and even further south to Kerala.
According to the officials, the other stretches, particularly between Veer and Udupi have cuttings and tunnels through hills and this poses a big technical challenge.
But they believe that even the part track doubling would considerably help to increase track capacity which would allow for more trains on the route.
The Konkan Railway operates 78 trains daily which carry about 35 million passengers annually. But there is always a long waiting list of passengers hoping to travel on these trains and it is almost impossible to run any more services with the existing track capacity.
Between January and December 2013, 844 special trains were operated on the route to clear the rush, up from the 537 trains run in the corresponding period in 2012. The Konkan Railway also added a whopping 1,734 coaches to existing trains to manage the demand.
"All these extra trains carried 1,2 million people, but it still couldn't satisfy the demand. It is this lack of capacity that is allowing the private bus operators on the route make a killing year after year," a senior official said.
In October, officials estimated the cost of laying a new line in the reion of Rs15,000 crore which would require financing from an institution like the World Bank. This is mainly because the Konkan Railway balance sheet is not too good.
At the end of September 2013, Konkan Railway had a revenue of Rs1,085 crore and expenditure of Rs1,066 crore, leaving it with almost nothing to plough back.
"All the participant states in the Konkan Railway, namely Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, should act quickly to finish the doubling of the route so people can get relief," the official said.
Route length : 741 km
Feasibility of track doubling : 300 km
Number of trains daily : 78 services up and down
Special trains between Apr and Dec 2013 : 844
Extra coaches coupled to regular trains between Apr and Dec 2013 : 1,724