India to build new railway track to link with Bangladesh

The Indian government will soon start work   on a new rail link to Bangladesh that would ease surface transport in the mountainous northeastern states, a railway official said here Tuesday.

India will build a 15-km railway track linking Tripura capital Agartala with Bangladesh's southeastern city of Akhaurah, which is also an important railway junction connected to Chittagong port, resource-rich Sylhet and Dhaka.

An agreement to this effect was signed between between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Bangladesh counterpart 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," Northeast Frontier Railways (NFR) chief administrative officer (Construction) Arvind Sewary told reporters.

After holding a meeting with Tripura ministers and officials, Sewary said: "In the forthcoming railway budget, the allocation of funds is expected to be sanctioned and immediately after that, the work for laying track would start."

The railway budget will be presented in parliament on March 14.

A high-level NFR team led by Sewary is now on a tour of Tripura to study the proposed Agartala-Akhaurah link and other ongoing railway projects, being commissioned by the railway authority.

The project is expected to be completed by 2014. Of the 15 km  rail line, five km of track falls in the Indian territory and the remaining in Bangladesh.

The official said: "With the establishment of the new railway link, northeast India would be connected to the Chittagong international sea port by rail."

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

Surface connectivity is an important factor as the landlocked 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 over 70 percent hilly terrain with steep roads and multiple hairpin bends.

For ferrying goods and heavy machinery to the northeast from abroad and other parts of the country, India has for long been seeking land, sea and rail access 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 through Bangladesh is just about 350 km.

The NFR is now laying tracks to connect Tripura's southern most border town Sabroom, 135 south of here. From Sabroom, the Chittagong international sea port is just 72 km.

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