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Agartala: A goods train service that gets flagged off on Saturday will link southern Assam with other north-eastern states, meeting an old demand of the people, the officials said.
"Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu will flag off the service from southern Assam's Badarpur station to Jirania in Tripura and Jiribam in Manipur on February 20," Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) spokesman Pranav Jyoti Sharma told IANS.
Jirania is 12 km from here and about 215 km from Badarpur. Jiribam is in Imphal East district of Manipur and about 75 km from Badarpur.
A colourful function will be held at Silchar in Assam to mark the launch of the new goods train service which will subsequently be studied by the Commission of Railway Safety (CRS).
If the CRS clears it, a regular passenger train service would be launched on the newly laid broad gauge tracks up to Agartala in Tripura and Jiribam in Manipur, Sharma said.
The CRS clearance might come as soon as March 31 after which a regular passenger train service could start, said Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha who last month received the first broad-gauge trial train on the newly laid Badarpur-Agartala railway line at a function here.
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 works could only gain speed after that turbulent period.
Lumding is an important railway junction in Assam and falls under Guwahati-Dibrugarh broad-gauge section.
In the first phase, the 210-km Lumding-Silchar gauge conversion project was completed early last year.
In the second phase, the 227-km Badarpur-Agartala gauge conversion was undertaken. It 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 railway network through Guwahati with a distance of about 600 km.
The Lumding-Silchar metre-guage track was in operation from 1899, while Tripura came on the Indian Railway map in 1964 through metre-gauge track.
The Lumding-Silchar line is lifeline for southern Assam, 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 food grain, fertilisers, petroleum products, construction materials and other commodities.
After gauge conversion of Guwahati-Lumding line in 1994, the trans-shipment point got shifted from Guwahati to Lumding.
Southern Assam's Barak Valley was brought on the broad-gauge rail map on November 21 last year, with Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu flagging off a regular passenger train.
NFR general manager H.K. Jaggi said Rs.7,751 crore was spent to lay the broad gauge track in the Badarpur-Agartala sector.
The Badarpur-Agartala line has five tunnels and 461 major and minor bridges. While the longest tunnel is about two km long, there are a record 161 curvings in the line.
Sharma said that the NFR is working to lay new broad gauge railway track on the 111-km Jiribam-Tupul-Imphal section.
"The NFR is now executing ambitious projects for achieving connectivity to all northeastern state capitals by 2020. It has already completed 15 new line projects and 18 gauge-conversion projects besides other projects," he added.
Of 11 national projects, the 505-km Rangiya-Rangapara-North Lakhimpur-Murkongselek line in Assam has already been completed and 10 are progressing smoothly, he said.
"There are 25 other projects in various states. Once these projects are completed, more than 1,000 km of new lines will be added and more than 560 km of lines will be doubled."
Currently 36 projects were being constructed by NFR -- 13 are in Assam, three in Tripura, two each in Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Nagaland, one each in Mizoram, Manipur and Sikkim, said Sharma.