The 122-km newly converted Villupuram-Mayiladuthurai broad gauge section was inaugurated here on Monday, ushering a vital link between northern and southern districts through Cuddalore and Chidambaram.

The section accounts for 22 stations, 52 manned and unmanned level crossings each, 32 major bridges, 290 minor bridges and a long bridge across the Kollidam.

The project was handed over to the Rail Vikas Nigam Limited (RVNL) at an initial estimate of Rs.283.83 crore in 2005-06. It was completed at a cost of Rs.450 crore.

The project was a component of the Rs.426-crore gauge conversion works in the Villupuram-Thanjavur section, sanctioned by the Railway Board in 1998-99. The Thanjavur-Kumbakonam-Mayiladuthurai section was completed in 2006.

Deepak Krishan, General Manager, Southern Railway, said innumerable number of breaches, the unusually long monsoon of 2007-08 and scarcity of materials delayed the project.

The speed of passenger trains will be restricted to 75 kmph in a bid to address safety concerns expressed by the Commissioner of Safety, who had refused to clear the section on safety grounds during an earlier inspection. It was cleared by the Chief Commissioner of Railway Safety. Mr. Krishan said the speed would be gradually increased.

According to E. Ahamed, Union Minister of State for Railways, over Rs.1 lakh crore was required for various railway projects. Currently available funds for “socially desirable” projects amounted to Rs.11,000 crore.

“PPP (Private-Public Partnerships) and special agencies are envisaged to generate funds for Railways. Like nation-building, railway projects are products of team work,” the Minister said.

G. K.Vasan, Union Minister of Shipping, said the current year's railway budgetary allocation of Rs.41,426 crore exceeded the last fiscal's by Rs.1,142 crore.

Over Rs.795 crore has been allotted for Tamil Nadu where a second integral coach factory, a railway sports academy and railway hospitals are among the projects planned, he said. “The growth of Railways is synonymous with the nation's commercial and economic growth.”

The Bhubaneswar-Rameswaram weekly express (No.8496) will commence its maiden service on May 21 from Bhuvaneshwar. The Rameswaram-Bhubaneshwar express (8495) will begin its run on May 23.

The Chennai Egmore – Rameswaram daily express (6101/6102), which is being operated through chord line will be run via Mayiladuthurai, Kumbakonam and Thanjavur from August 1.

The Tiruchendhur-Chennai Egmore weekly express (6736 / 6735) will be operated on the main line from July 29 and July 30.

S. S. Palanimanickam, Union Minister of State for Finance, O. S. Manian and Mani Shankar Aiyar, both MPs, were among those present.