The Punalur – Sengottai rail route on Madurai Division of Southern Railway will be opened within a month. This route would be the third and shortest rail route to reach Chennai from the state. Currently, there are train services to Chennai via Palakkad and Thiruvananthapuram. The broadened rail route connecting Punalur and Sengottai will be commissioned by April as the re-alignment of the track in Edamon reach suggested by the chief safety commissioner is complete. In the first phase, six passenger trains are likely to operate along the route bridging the two states, from Madurai, Sengottai, Kollam and Tirunelveli. The Express trains will have to wait for at least six months after the commissioning of the new rail route, considering safety issues.
The trains are expected to take more than two hours to cover 49 kilometres, the distance between Punalur and Sengottai, as the route is mostly through ghat areas. The speed along the route has been limited to 30 kilometres per hour in the primary phase which will be advanced further. The railways also has plans to consider the proposal to declare the rail route as a heritage tourism route, taking advantage of its course through the Western Ghats along the Aryankavu – Punalur stretch. The major considerations will be nature tourism and heritage tourism as the route already consists of historical structures constructed by the British.
The rail route includes a heritage 13-arch bridge along the 45-kilometre-long railway line from Punalur to Shenkotta, commissioned in 1903. The bridge which is 102.72 metres long and 5.18 metres in height was constructed using the ancient Surki method by the British. It has now been strengthened using concrete jacketing. The heritage look will be artificially created by fixing the walls with tiles resembling old construction blocks.
The metre-gauge rail service along the Punalur – Shenkotta stretch was stopped since September 2010. The Punalur- Shenkotta section is part of the 325-km Kollam- Shenkotta -Tenkasi- Tirunelveli- Thiruchendur gauge conversion project carried out by the construction wing of the Indian Railways. The rail route along Shenkotta-Thiruchendur and Kollam-Punalur sections have already been opened for rail traffic.