The new broad gauge railway track connecting Silchar in southern Assam to Lumding in central Assam was finally thrown open for passenger traffic on Saturday with union railway minister Suresh Prabhu flagging off the first Silchar-Lumding-Guwahati Fast Passenger train through remote control from New Delhi.
With this passenger traffic to southern Assam as well as onward movement to Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura became easier, while work for broad gauge conversion on the Badarpur-Agartala section is in progress. Earlier, goods train movement on the Lumding-Silchar section had started in April this year.
The Lumding-Badarpur portion of the newly-opened line has a historic backdrop in that being not only constructed as a metre gauge track in the last part of the 19th century to move tea, coal and timber from upper Assam to Chittagong port, but also considered as an engineering marvel because of the difficult terrain across the Barail mountains. The new broad gauge track is also described as a formidable engineering challenge because of the typical unstable geology of the region.
While the present newly-constructed broad gauge line runs about 50 per cent along the old metre gauge alignment, the 210-km track has 79 major bridges, 340 minor bridges and 21 tunnels. The longest tunnel is 3.235km, while the tallest bridge over the river Doyang is 54 metres tall. There are a total of 33 stations in the Silchar–Lumding section.
Lifeline for southern Assam, Tripura, Mizoram and Manipur, the foundation stone of the broad gauge track was laid way back in 1996 by the then prime minister HD Deve Gowda. Declared a National Project by the prime minister Manmohan Singh in 2004 in view of its strategic importance, work on the Lumding-Silchar suffered heavily with militant groups kidnapping, attacking and killing railway staff, contractor workers and security personnel between 2000 and 2011.
Though paramilitary forces were initially tasked to provide security to the broad gauge project that passes through the trouble-torn Dima Hasao district, the government in 2009 deployed the Territorial Army to ensure security to the national project.