The much-awaited passenger train service between Agartala and Kolkata would begin from Saturday fulfilling a decades-old demand of people from the northeastern state of Tripura, an official said on Thursday.
The Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) would operate the Kanchanjunga Express between Agartala and Sealdah (Kolkata) via Silchar and Guwahati in Assam twice a week.
“The Agartala-Sealdah Kanchanjunga Express would begin operations from Saturday, meeting a long-standing demand of the people to link Tripura with Kolkata,” NFR’s Chief Public Relations Officer Pranav Jyoti Sharma told IANS.
The Kanchanjunga Express would leave from Agartala for Sealdah via Guwahati and Silchar on Tuesdays and Saturdays while it would depart from Sealdah for Agartala on Sundays and Thursdays.
It will halt at around 35 important stations enroute including Silchar, Guwahati, New Bongaigaon, New Coochbehar, New Jalpaiguri, Malda Town, Bolpur Shantiniketan and New Alipurduar. The train will cover the 1,556 km journey in 38 hours.
This railway connectivity will comprise the lifeline for millions of people in Tripura, western Manipur and Mizoram besides southern Assam.
Sharma said that since February 2 the Kanchanjunga Express has been running thrice a week from southern Assam’s biggest commercial city Silchar, 251 km by train from Agartala and 380 km from Guwahati.
Another much-awaited weekly passenger train, named “Tripura Sundari Express”, is running between Agartala and Anand Vihar station of Delhi, since July 31, covering a distance of around 2,480 km in 55 hours.
After the launch of the Kanchanjunga Express train, Tripura would get connected to Kolkata bringing much relief to the Bengali-dominated population in the state.
The extension of the existing metre gauge track up to Agartala brought the city on India’s rail map for the first time in October 2008 since the advent of the railways in this subcontinent in 1853.
The single-track 227 km metre-gauge link — Badarpur (south Assam) to Agartala — was converted into broad-gauge track earlier this year at a cost of Rs 2,016 crore.
“Though a veteran journalist Amiya Deb Roy first wrote a letter to the central government to extend railway network in Tripura in 1949, the formal agitation for rail began in December 1951 through a mass gathering addressed by veteran Communist leaders Jyoti Basu, Muzaffar Ahmad and S.A. Dange,” said writer and journalist Tapas Debnath.
Debnath told IANS: “Former parliamentarians and top Tripura Left leaders Dasaratha Deb and Biren Datta had in 1952 first raised the demand in the Lok Sabha for extension of rail network to Agartala.”
The stir got a new impetus after the CPI-M (Communist Party of India-Marxist) -led Left Front government, headed by Nripen Chakraborty, assumed office in 1978. Chakraborty met then Railway Minister Madhu Dandavate on January 12, 1978, and put up a strong demand to put Agartala on the rail map.
A series of movements were organised in Tripura, Guwahati and New Delhi for extension of the rail network to Tripura. Incumbent Chief Minister Manik Sarkar and Revenue and PWD Minister Badal Choudhury, among other leaders, were actively involved in these agitations.
“The NFR has so far spent about Rs 2,016 crore to connect Agartala by rail by making two big tunnels through the Longtharai Valley and Atharamura Hills and constructing a record number of 233 minor and major bridges,” said an NFR engineer.
The NFR is now laying broad-gauge track for the 112-km Agartala-Sabroom line — to be completed by March 2018 — at a cost of Rs 3,351 crore. Sabroom is southern Tripura’s border town adjoining Bangladesh.
Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar said: “After the Indian Railways extends its rail line up to Sabroom, it would be very easy to connect with the Chittagong international sea port in southeast Bangladesh, which is just 75 km from the Tripura border town.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his visit to Dhaka in June 2015, had laid the foundation stone to construct a bridge over Feni river, adjacent to Sabroom, to connect the town with Bangladesh’s hill town of Khagrachari.
This will open another railway link between the two neighbours after the existing Kolkata-Dhaka and proposed Agartala-Akhaura rail links.
“After extending the railway line to Sabroom, Tripura and the entire northeast would be linked with Southeast Asia very easily,” Sarkar told IANS.
Meanwhile, the NFR has already undertaken works to lay a 15-km rail track to connect Agartala with Bangladesh’s railway station Akhaura, an important rail junction there.