Agartala/Silchar, May 6: The passenger train service between Agartala and Silchar (in southern Assam) began on Friday, fulfilling a decades-old demand for broad gauge railway connectivity between Tripura and the rest of India.
"One pair of passenger train would run between Silchar and Agartala from today (Friday). These trains would run until May 20," Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) spokesman Nripendra Bhattacharjee told IANS over phone.
He said: "A train having 10 general coaches and two luggage-cum-parcel vans with 333 passengers left Silchar for Agartala Friday morning. A similar train would leave Agartala for Silchar."
NFR's chief public relations officer Pranav Jyoti Sharma said that due to heavy rains and massive landslides in as many as 14 places in Dima Hasao district (formerly North Cachar Hills district) major trains running between Guwahati and Silchar and beyond have been suspended since April 27.
"The debris was cleared in most places except Phiding. Since yesterday (Thursday) we are running goods train. Passenger train would run from both Agartala and Silchar to Kolkata and other places via Guwahati after getting track clearance certificate," Sharma told IANS over phone from NFR headquarters at Maligaon near Guwahati.
The NFR would hold a formal function after May 21 to flag off the passenger train service between Agartala and Sealdah in Kolkata via Silchar, Lumding and Guwahati.
Tripura's members of parliament - Jitendra Chaudhury, Sankar Prasad Datta - met Railway mMnister Suresh Prabhu in New Delhi on Wednesday and urged him to start superfast passenger trains from Agartala to Kolkata and Delhi.
"Prabhu has given us commitment to launch superfast passenger trains from Agartala immediately after May 20," Chaudhury told IANS over phone from New Delhi.
The two pairs of trial passenger trains ran between Agartala and Silchar on May 2-5 in the newly-laid broad gauge line.
The Kanchanjunga Express was introduced between Silchar and Sealdah in Kolkata via Guwahati on February 1 and the weekly Poorvottar Sampark Kranti express between Silchar and Delhi was started on February 20, meeting a long-pending demand of the people to link southern Assam with other parts of the country.
The railway line from Guwahati passes through Lumding in Nagaon district (in central Assam) and southern Assam connecting land-locked Tripura's capital 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.
These states are heavily dependent on this railway line for supply of foodgrain, fertilisers, petroleum products, construction materials and other commodities besides carrying of 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's general budget. The project was hit by insurgency from 2006 to 2009 and work could only gain speed after that turbulent period.
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 completed three months earlier.
With the completion of gauge conversion work right up to Agartala, the Tripura capital was connected with the country's broad gauge railway network through Guwahati at a distance of about 600 km.