AGARTALA: Passenger train services between Delhi and Agartala were flagged off on Sunday by Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu, finally putting an end to the 67-year-old popular agitation for railway services to Tripura. The much awaited weekly passenger train named "Tripura Sundari Express" would run on the newly laid broad gauge track, between Agartala and Anand Vihar station of Delhi and Anand Vihar and Agartalacovering a distance of around 2,480 km in 47 hours. Bangladesh Railway Minister Mazibul Hoque, Tripura Governor Tathagata Roy, Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, Minister of State for Railways Rajen Gohain and top officials of the Indian and Bangladesh government were present at the flagging off ceremony held at the Agartala railway station. This railway connectivity is the lifeline for millions in Tripura, western Manipur and Mizoram besides southern Assam. With the launch of the passenger train, the mountainous border state of Tripura has now been connected with the national capital via Guwahati, Assam's main city which is about 600 km from Agartala. 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 spending 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 had begun in December 1951 through a mass gathering addressed by veteran communist leaders Jyoti Basu, Muzaffar Ahmad and SA Dange," said writer and journalist Tapas Debnath.
He said, "Former parliamentarians and top Tripura Left leaders Dasaratha Deb and Biren Datta had first raised the demand in the Lok Sabha for an extension of railway network to Agartala in 1952."
The stir got a new impetus after the CPM-led government headed by former Chief Minister Nripen Chakraborty assumed office for the first time in 1978. Chakraborty met the then railway minister Madhu Dandavate on January 12, 1978, and put up a strong demand to put Agartala on the railway network.
A series of movements had been organized in Tripura, Guwahati and New Delhi for extension of railway network to Tripura. Incumbent Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, Revenue and PWD Minister Badal Choudhury among many other leaders were actively involved in these agitations.
Thousands of cheerful people gathered at the Agartala railway station on Sunday to witness the historic moment, with some women blowing conch shells to wish the formal launch of the train services a successful one. "It took more than four decades to connect the capital city after northern Tripura's business hub Dharmanagar came on the railway map in 1964," said Choudhury. Dharmanagar is about 200 km from here.
"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 egineer with the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR).
The 1,962-metre Longtharai tunnel is the longest railway tunnel in eastern India.
The NFR is now laying broad-gauge track for the 112-km Agartala-Sabroom line by March 2018 and investing Rs 3,351 crore.
Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar said, "After the Indian Railways extends its 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 last year has laid the foundation stone to construct a bridge over Feni river, adjoining Sabroom, to connect the town with Bangladesh's hill town 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 said.
Meanwhile, the NFR has already undertaken work to lay 15 km railway track to connect Agartala with Bangladeshi railway station Akhaurah, an important rail junction in Bangladesh.