A regular train service from Agartala to Kolkata via Guwahati on the newly-laid broad gauge line as well as work on a new India-Bangladesh railway project would start third week of June, a top railway official said on Wednesday.
“The works for new India-Bangladesh railway project and regular passenger train service from Agartala to Sealdah via Guwahati and Agartala to Silchar (in southern Assam) on the newly-laid broad gauge line would begin third week of this month,” Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) General Manager H. K. Jaggi told reporters after meeting Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar and Transport Minister Manik Dey
“The date would be finalised after Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu and Tripura Chief Minister mutually finalised the day according to their convenience in third week of June,” he added.
The Rs.968 crore Agartala (India)-Akhaura (Bangladesh) 15 km (5 km in India and 10 km in Bangladesh) railway project was finalised in January 2010 when Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina met then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during her visit to New Delhi.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also discussed the railway project with Hasina during his visit to Dhaka in June last year. The Indian government would bear their entire expenditure.
Jaggi said that the Union Development of North Eastern Region Ministry has already released Rs.150 crore to acquire required land to lay rail line in Tripura and that the Chief Minister and Transport Minister had told him that the state government would soon start acquisition of land,.
“Following the Tripura government’s persistent persuasion and intervention by the Prime Minister’s Office, the DoNER Ministry has agreed to provide Rs.580 crore for the Tripura part of the Agartala-Akhaura railway project,” Dey told reporters.
“After we get Rs. 150 crore funds, released by the DoNER Ministry, at once we would start work for acquisition of required 67 acres land,” he said, addding that the Agartala-Akhaura railway project would provide a major boost to development and economy of northeastern India and eastern Bangladesh.
“India’s external affairs ministry would provide necessary funds for the Bangladesh portion of the Agartala-Akhaura rail project,” her said.
The 1,650-km mountainous route distance between Agartala and Kolkata via Guwahati would be reduced to only 550 km once the new rail track is linked through Bangladesh.
Currently, India and Bangladesh have four rail links with West Bengal.
The railway line from Guwahati passes through Lumding in Nagaon district (in central Assam) and southern Assam connecting Agartala and parts of Manipur and Mizoram with the rest of India.
The Guwahati-Silchar railway line is the lifeline for southern Assam comprising four districts – Cachar, Karimganj, Hailakandi, Dima Hasao district, known as Barak Valley, and the mountainous states of Tripura, Manipur and Mizoram, which are heavily dependent on this line for supply of foodgrain, fertilisers, petroleum products, construction materials and other commodities besides ferrying passengers.
The 437-km Lumding-Silchar and Badarpur-Agartala gauge conversion work was sanctioned in 1996.
It was declared a national project in 2004, thereby ensuring uninterrupted funding from the central government. The project was hit by insurgency from 2006 to 2009 and work could only gain speed after that.
In the first phase, the 210-km Lumding-Silchar gauge conversion project was completed last year. In the second phase, the 227-km Badarpur-Agartala gauge conversion was scheduled to be completed in March but was done three months earlier.
The Silchar-Jiribam (52 km) in Manipur and Silchar-Bhairabi (120 km) in Mizoram gauge conversion project are part of the Lumding-Silchar line along with other projects.
At an event in Shillong on May 27, Modi flagged-off the passenger trains to Mizoram and Manipur on the newly-laid broad gauge line.
With the completion of gauge conversion work right up to Agartala, it was connected with the country’s broad gauge railway network through Guwahati.
After India’s independence, Agartala is the first state capital to come up on the rail map (meter gauge line) – in October 2008.