Jaffna: The crippled 252.5 km railway line in northern Sri Lanka, the country`s longest and the symbol of the havoc wreaked by the Tamil Tigers during the decades-long civil war, is expected to be restored by 2013 with India extending a loan worth USD 800 million.
It is no mystery how the railway tracks ceased to exist with just vast swaths of empty lands left now -- the network suffered several bombings as the then powerful rebels crippled it to prevent Sri Lankan Army from entering areas controlled by them.
They did not just stop at bombing stations and tracks, but removed the rails and used them to make weapons and bombs which they mercilessly used against Sri Lankan Army personnel as well as Tamils, for whose `emancipation` they claimed to have fought for 30 long years.
With the old days of violence and uncertainty coming to an end, these jungles would boast of a thriving railway network by next year-end with brand new tracks, stations and advanced cars running on them, thus restoring the Northern Line.
IRCON, a Government of India entity, is rebuilding the railway network in northern Sri Lanka at a cost of USD 800 million under a Line of Credit agreement that India has extended to its neighbour.
The restoration of 252.5 km railway line from Medawachchiya to Jaffna and Kankesanthurai, Sri Lanka`s only commercial harbour in the north will be completed by December 2013, 18 months ahead of schedule and it is set to become the showpiece project of India-Sri Lanka developmental ties.
It took nearly three years to demine the areas and clear them of the bushes and now IRCON`s work on restoration is progressing in full swing at various locations.
"The project will be implemented in four phases and the first stretch from Medawachchiya to Madhu Road will be done by February next year, followed by Madhu Road to Talai Mannar and Omanthai to Pallai in September next year and finally the stretch from Pallai to Kankesanthurai in December," S L Gupta, General Manager of IRCON operations in Sri Lanka, said.
Gupta said most part of the network was destroyed due to the war and his team could find tracks only in a few areas and most of the stations have been victim to the bloodshed unleashed by the LTTE and Sri Lankan Army for three decades.
"There was no trace of existence of a railway line in many areas. All we saw was empty lands with bushes all over them. Now, we have redrawn maps and we are working on the corridor," he said.
Once the Northern Railway Line is restored, people from
any part of Sri Lanka can hop on to a train and travel to the former war zones of Jaffna, Mannar and Talai Mannar in the northern tip of the island.
Since the route of the network was an active warzone which witnessed intense fighting, IRCON and other agencies concerned took additional efforts besides demining before commencing work.
Restoration of line would mean the famous `Yaazdevi Express` resuming its service from Colombo to Jaffna and further north, providing a smooth connectivity between the country`s capital to the headquarter of the province.
In the long run, the railway line would also provide an indirect connectivity to India with the corridor running up to Talai Mannar from where a ferry service, which is under the consideration of India and Sri Lanka, would take people to Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu.
The Line of Credit for the project is part of India`s assistance to redevelop infrastructure in northern Sri Lanka after the end of the war. IRCON has already rebuilt over 100 km of Sri Lanka`s Southern Railway which was washed away by the devastating tsunami of 2004.