The long-awaited passenger train service between Tripura’s capital Agartala and Kolkata in West Bengal began on Saturday without fanfare.
The Kanchanjunga Express, with 21 coaches, chugged off early Saturday from the Agartala railway station on the city outskirts without an official ceremony to mark the event. The train, which earlier used to connect Sealdah with Guwahati, will now connect Sealdah with Agartala via Guwahati twice a week.
A large number of curious onlookers, however, gathered to witness the maiden run of the train that will culminate its 1,556-km odyssey at Sealdah (Kolkata) via Guwahati and Silchar (in Assam) on Sunday evening.
Every week, the Kanchanjunga Express will leave from Agartala for Sealdah on Tuesdays and Saturdays while its return journey will be on Sundays and Thursdays.
During its 38-hour journey, the new train will halt at around 38 important stations, including New Bongaigaon, New Coochbehar, New Jalpaiguri, Malda town, Bolpur Shantiniketan and New Alipurduar.
The service will be a relief to lakhs of people in Tripura, western Manipur and Mizoram, besides southern Assam.
“The Agartala-Sealdah Kanchanjunga Express has fulfilled the long-pending demand of the region’s people,” Northeast Frontier Railway chief public relations officer Pranav Jyoti Sharma said.
Sharma said 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 weekly passenger train ‘Tripura Sundari Express’ is running between Agartala and Anand Vihar station in Delhi since July 31, covering around 2,480 km in 55 hours.
The extension of the erstwhile metre gauge track up to Agartala brought it on India’s rail map in October 2008.
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.
“The NFR has spent about Rs 2,016 crore to connect Agartala by rail, including building two tunnels through the Longtharai Valley and Atharamura Hills and constructing a record 233 minor and major bridges,” said an NFR engineer.
The NFR is now laying a 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.”
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 north-east would be linked with south-east Asia very easily,” Sarkar said.
Meanwhile, the NFR has already undertaken work to lay a 15-km rail track to connect Agartala with Bangladesh’s railway station Akhaura, an important rail junction there.