Agartala, Oct 5 (IANS) Regular train services between Tripura and the rest of the country began Sunday, the first time this northeastern state has come on India's rail map.
'The North Eastern Frontier Railway (NFR) from Sunday onwards would run a pair of passenger trains between Silchar and Lumding in Assam and Agartala,' said NFR spokesman Jayanta Sharma.
'Agartala is the first state capital in independent India to be connected with rail network,' said S.S. Narayanan, divisional railway manager, NFR.
Thousands of people reached the Agartala railway station to witness the historic moment, cheering and blowing conch shells even as there was no formal function to flag off the train services.
A locomotive of the NFR chugged into the Agartala railway station, five km from the heart of the capital city, June 29.
The foundation stone for the 119-km Kumarghat-Agartala railway project was laid in 1996 by former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda.
'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 Tripura Transport Minister Manik Dey. Dharmanagar is about 200 km from here.
'The NFR has so far spent about Rs.9 billion to connect Agartala by rail by making three big tunnels through the Longtharai Valley, Baramura and Atharamura Hills in Dhalai and West Tripura districts,' said NFR deputy chief engineer F.S. Meena.
The 1,962-metre Longtharai tunnel is the longest railway tunnel in eastern India.
According to railway chief engineer B. Chowdhury, the NFR would also start work to lay a new track for the 110-km Agartala-Sabroom line by January next year after completing the final survey.
Approximately 1,200 acres would be required for the Rs.8.13 billion project to connect Tripura's southernmost border town of Sabroom by rail.
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 port in southeast Bangladesh, which is just 75 km from there.'
A small bridge over river Feni can connect Sabroom and Khagrachari, across the border in Bangladesh, to open a second railway link between the two neighbours after the Kolkata-Dhaka rail service that started April 14, 2008 after a gap of 43 years.
'After extending the railway line to Sabroom, Tripura and the entire northeast would be linked with Southeast Asia very easily,' Sarkar told IANS.
Meanwhile, the NFR has already conducted a survey to connect Agartala with Akhaurah railway station in Bangladesh.
The distance between the newly constructed Agartala railway station and Akhaurah railway station, an important rail junction in Bangladesh, is just five kilometres.