Meghalaya excited over rail budget promise

Shillong : There was euphoria in Meghalaya Tuesday after Railway Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda announced the first passenger train between Assam’s main city Guwahati and Mendipathar in Meghalaya’s North Garo Hills region.

“This railway service would bring great economic changes for the state as it was one of the crucial projects that the state requested from the central government,” Chief Minister Mukul Sangma told IANS.

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“We are delighted at the announcement and this rail service would have a positive impact on the economy of the state and also the environment. We are hoping that the train service would begin at the earliest,” he said.

The distance between the two destinations is 131 km and a passenger train would now run daily between Mendhipathar and Guwahati via Dudhnoi in Goalpara district of Assam.

Meghalaya is a landlocked state and is dependent on land transport. Due to this, prices of most items are comparatively higher than in most other parts of the country.

The railways had planned to chug the first train into Mendipathar April 1, but abandoned the plan due to the model code of conduct duing the parliament elections.

The project was approved in 1992-93, but faced hurdles during its initial days due to opposition from the local population.

“I am thankful to the people of Garo Hills for the manner they supported the project. They willingly parted with their lands for the project and in some cases they took the land compensation much later from the date of parting,” Sangma said.

The chief minister said the state government would soon take up with the railway ministry to connect the state capital Shillong with rail network.

He said the railways would change the socio-economic landscape of the state and would benefit everyone by providing employment to youths and giving better markets to farmers.

Sangma said the facility has generated new hope for the people.

Incidentally, railways in Meghalaya is not something new.

Although this is for the first time a train would chug into Meghalaya after it attained statehood in 1972, Meghalaya was one of the first places in India to have railways.

In 1895-96, the British provincial government of united Assam built the Cherra Companyganj State Railways, one of the first railway projects of that era.

The railway ran between Meghalaya’s mining town Tharia and Companyganj, now in Sylhet district of Bangladesh – a distance of 7.5 miles or a little over 12 km – at places worked by rope mechanisms. It was built at a cost of Rs.8 lakh.

However, the Assam earthquake of 1897 completely destroyed the tracks and the railway was finally closed in 1900.

It was a contemporary of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways that is now listed as a World Heritage.