Agartala, Jun 17: The Indian and Bangladeshi governments will start work early next year on a new rail link to ease surface transport, officials said on Tuesday.
India will build a 15-km railway tracks linking Tripura’s capital Agartala with Bangladesh’s southeastern city of Akhaurah, an important railway junction connected to Chittagong port, resource-rich Sylhet and Dhaka.
An Indian delegation and a Bangladeshi team attended the third meeting of the Agartala-Akhaurah railway link project steering committee on Tuesday. They will on Wednesday go for a field inspection on the Indian side.
“The work for new Agartala-Akhaurah railway link will start early next year. The DPR (detailed project report) will be finalised within a month or so,” India’s external affairs ministry’s joint secretary Alok K.Sinha told reporters after the meeting.
Sinha, who led the Indian delegation, said: “… We will mutually sort out if any problem comes up… The fourth meeting of the project steering committee will be held in Dhaka in December.” The Bangladesh delegation was led by its railway ministry’s joint secretary Sunil Chandra Pal.
Pal said: “With the setting up of the new railway connectivity between India and Bangladesh, people of two countries will benefit as they will come closer. Men and materials will be ferried very smoothly.”
An agreement to implement the railway project was signed between India’s former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Bangladesh Premier Sheikh Hasina during her visit to India in January 2010.
“Total cost of the proposed project is estimated at Rs.252 crore. The Indian Railway Construction Company (IRCON) would lay the new railway tracks on both sides of the border,” a senior official (construction) of the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) told reporters.
Of the 15 km rail line, five km of tracks fall in the Indian territory. The official said: “With the establishment of the new railway link, northeast India will be connected to the Chittagong international sea port by rail.”
He said: “The proposed rail link will not only improve bilateral ties but also help in establishing connectivity with inaccessible areas in the northeast as journey from Kolkata to Tripura and other northeastern states via Bangladesh will save cost, time and distance travelled.”
Surface connectivity is an important factor as India’s northeastern states are surrounded by Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and China. The only land route to these states from within India is through Assam and West Bengal. But it passes through over 70 percent hilly terrain with steep roads and multiple hairpin bends.
India has for long been seeking land, sea and rail access through Bangladesh for ferrying goods and heavy machinery to its northeast from abroad and other parts of the country.
Agartala 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 through Bangladesh is just about 350 km.
The NFR is now laying tracks to connect Tripura’s southern most border town Sabroom, 135 km south of here. From Sabroom, the Chittagong international sea port is just 72 km.