Guwahati/Agartala, Six of the eight north-eastern states’ capital cities will come on the Indian railway map by March 2023, top railway officials said.
The North-east Frontier Railways (NFR), which has already connected Assam’s main city Guwahati (adjoining capital Dispur), Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh’s capital cities, is laying tracks to connect the capital cities of three more north-eastern states — Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland — by March 2023.
The first train in the north-east region chugged out from the industrial city of Dibrugarh in eastern Assam 138 years ago. NFR’s General Manager Sanjive Roy said new railway lines were laid to extend the railway lines in three more capital cities of northeast India — Imphal (Manipur), Aizawl (Mizoram) and Kohima (Nagaland) — excluding Meghalaya’s Shillong and Sikkim’s Gangtok.
“The work to lay the broad gauge railway line has been progressing well in Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland. There are some land-related and other environmental problems in Sikkim and Meghalaya, causing the delay in extending the railway networks in the two hilly states,” Roy .
The NFR, one among the 17 railway zones in India, operates fully and partially in six of the eight northeastern states, excluding Meghalaya and Sikkim, and in seven districts of West Bengal and five districts of north Bihar.
The NFR General Manager said the government had sanctioned electrification of railway lines in the region and tender-related work was being undertaken for the purpose. He said, “The works for the 12.23-km Agartala (Tripura)-Akhaura (Bangladesh) new railway lines are underway and it would be completed by March next year.”
The Agartala-Akhaura railway line would facilitate ferrying of goods to and from both the countries and greatly benefit India’s land-locked north-eastern states. The journey time between Agartala and Kolkata via Bangladesh would be reduced by a third, from 1,613 km through mountainous terrain to only 514 km.
Linking with the existing Agartala railway station, of the 12.23 km India-Bangladesh new railway line, 5.46 km railway tracks were laid in India (on the outskirts of the capital city Agartala) and 6.57 km railway line laid on the Bangladesh side.
The Rs 972-crore project was finalised in January 2010 when Bangladesh premier Sheikh Hasina met the then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during her visit to New Delhi.
Spending Rs 1,150 crore, the NFR had extended the railway lines up to two bordering sub-divisional towns — Sabroom and Belonia — both cities situated along the Bangladesh border, facilitating the link with the railway networks of the neighbouring country.
NFR’s Chief Public Relations Officer (CPRO) Subhanan Chanda said although the NFR has been able to make headway in most of the N-E states with rail connectivity, Sikkim was still left out of the Indian railway map.
“Work for providing rail connectivity was sanctioned for Sikkim way back in 2008-09. The work could not make much headway due to various environment-related issues as the proposed railway line would pass through the Mahananda wildlife sanctuary. This is a national project and is very important for overall development of the state of Sikkim. Once completed it is expected to boost connectivity of the land-locked state which shares its border with three neighbouring countries — China, Nepal and Bhutan — apart from being strategically important,” Chanda said.
According to the CPRO, of the 44.96-km stretch, 41.55 km fall in West Bengal and 3.41 km in Sikkim. The entire section is being constructed using the latest technology so that trains can run at a speed of 100 kmph. The anticipated project cost would be nearly Rs 8,900 crore of which nearly Rs 335.52 crore have already been utilised till July 2020.
The Indian Railway Construction company on behalf of the NFR was carrying out the construction work of the project. There would be 14 tunnels (38,555 metre) and 13 bridges in the 44.96-km section while five stations — Sivoke, Riyang, Teesta Bazar, Melli and Rangpo — would be constructed.
The NFR engineers said the landscape, soil conditions and other natural challenges have forced the railways to invest more money and to confront diverse challenges in the north-eastern region.
“Soil or earth-bearing capacity of the north-eastern region is much less compared to other parts of the country. But for the railway engineers, nothing is infeasible and impossible,” a senior NFR engineer.
BY SUJIT CHAKRABORTY