India approves new railway link with Bangladesh


Agartala: The Indian government has sanctioned a new railway link to Bangladesh for easing surface communication in the mountainous northeastern states, a Tripura government official said here Wednesday.

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India will build a 15-km railway track linking Agartala with Bangladesh’s southeastern city of Akhaurah, also an important railway junction connecting the Chittagong port, resource-rich Sylhet and Dhaka.

“The total proposed project cost is estimated at Rs.267 crore. The Indian Railway Construction Company (IRCON) would lay the new railway tracks on both sides of the border,” a state government official told reporters.

“The Railway Board officials have communicated the Indian government’s approval of the project to the Tripura government in a meeting here Tuesday,” the official added.

A high level Indian railway board team led by Advisor (projects) Chandar Prakash held a meeting with Tripura Chief Secretary S.K. Panda here Tuesday and discussed the project.

The project is expected to be completed by 2014. Of the 15-km link-rail-line with the Bangladesh railway network through Gangasagar and Akhaurah railway stations, five km track falls in Indian territory and the remaining in Bangladesh.

An official of the Northeast Frontier Railways (NFR) told IANS : “Rs.146.34 crore is expected to be given by external affairs ministry to lay the new track (10 km) on the Bangladesh side while the remaining cost of the Indian side is likely to be borne by DoNER (Development of North Eastern Region) ministry.”

The official said: “With the establishment of the new railway link, northeast India would be connected to the Chittagong international sea port through railway.”

The rail link between Agartala and Akhaurah is being set up as per the agreement between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina during her visit to India in January last year.

Agartala is the newest station of the Indian Railways, and came up on the country’s rail map in October 2008.

“There were seven to eight old rail links between India’s West Bengal and Assam states and Bangladesh. The services were suspended after the 1965 India-Pakistan war when Bangladesh was Pakistan’s eastern wing. Currently only three rail links are operational between India’s West Bengal and Bangladesh,” the NFR official said.

“Due to poor traffic, non-viability and various other reasons, several railway connections between India and Bangladesh had been suspended,” he added.

Surface connectivity is an important factor as the land-locked northeastern states are surrounded by Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and China and the only land route to these states from within India is through Assam and West Bengal. But this route passes through hilly terrain with steep roads and multiple hairpin bends.

For ferrying goods and heavy machinery from abroad and others parts of the country, India has for long been seeking land, port and rail access to the northeast through Bangladesh.

Agartala, for instance, is 1,650 km from Kolkata and 2,637 km from New Delhi via Guwahati and West Bengal, whereas the distance between the Tripura capital and Kolkata via Bangladesh is just about 350 km.