Too long has the proposal for a Trans-Asian Railway, which exists in part, remained on the drawing board. The concept of linking South Asia, South East Asia, China, Russia, and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) is regarded as the great transport revolution of the future. It offers the exciting prospect of providing an easy, convenient, and inexpensive mode of transport for passengers and goods across the gigantic Asian continent. Through such a link, the entire stretch of hinterland in the Indo-China region Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam will benefit in ways that are unimaginable today. Central Asia will get a significant boost if the trans-continental railway becomes a reality. India has been pushing for the project from the beginning and the Union Cabinet has given its formal clearance for the country to join the Trans-Asian railway. Over the past decade, several international and regional agencies, including the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), have done the basic studies on viability and urgency. Now they can help put together a funding package.
Laying or re-laying the railway track in each of the participant countries will be the relatively easy part. However, the project needs a single authority and a monitoring agency to look at the problems across the borders and speed up the links. India will benefit from stage one, when it gets the rail link through Myanmar to Thailand and the Indo-China region. Sri Lanka and India will need to sort out security concerns over bridging the Palk Straits. The Trans-Asian Railway will then progress to the stage of connecting with China, Russia, and the Central Asian countries, which will benefit hugely from the link. It can even offer a viable alternative mode of moving the rich petroleum and gas products from Central Asia to South Asia, considering that the gas pipeline projects have run into hurdles. Funding becomes the critical issue for the revolutionary project. Multilateral agencies may be willing to look at providing concessional finance, bearing in mind the tremendous development potential the Trans-Asian Railway holds for the least developed countries involved. India must go all out to see the project through. The fact that the Indian Railways and its subsidiaries can take on a significant part of the responsibility for implementing it will be a special inventive.