|The scenic Lumding - Badarpur hill section, Photo Courtesy: www.jonathanswordlyimages.com|
According to a notification by NF Railway, the 05697/05698 Hill Queen Express will start plying to and from Silchar from 1st March, 2013 onwards. While the Lumding bound train will start from Silchar at 6.30 AM and reach its destination at 5.30 PM, the train from Lumding will start at 9.30 AM.
The best part about the introduction of this train is that, it will provide connectivity with the Jan Shatabdi Express, which will help the people of the valley reach Guwahati by train within a day’s time. The 12067 Jan Shatabdi Express leaves Guwahati at 6.30 AM every morning and reaches Lumding at 9.25 AM, while the 12068 Jan Shatabdi bound for Guwahati leaves Lumding at 6.10 PM every evening and reaches its destination at 9 PM.
If run professionally, this train will help passengers avoid the ordeals of tavelling by the treacherous highway to Guwahati. Many will also be able to avoid the hassle of paying humongous amounts to travel to the state capital by air. However, NF Railway’s poor performance record still leaves us in doubt regarding the possibility of this train serving its intended purpose.
Moreover, services on this route get hampered every year during the monsoons due to landslides. Therefore, along with the other trains on the route, this service is also bound to bow down to the vagaries of nature during the rainy season. One also hopes, that the authorities do not ignore the other two trains running on this route – the Cachar Express and the Barak Valley Express after the introduction of this new train.
Many insiders from the Railways who have worked on the Lumding – Badarpur section confess that the more than a century old railway line has become much weaker than before with the passage of time. With the parallel construction of the broad gauge line, the authorities are also not too keen to spend on the maintenance of this line anymore. Therefore, maintaining regular services on this single line corridor will indeed be a major challenge for the Railways.
Rather unfortunately, many organisations in the Dima Hasao district have protested the extension of this train up to Silchar. They are apprehensive that the train so far, running only up to Lower Haflong will get filled up even before it reaches Haflong or Maibong and the people of the district, for whom it was originally introduced, will no more be able to enjoy its benefits.
They have threatened to block the movement of goods trains up to Barak Valley on 27th February, if their demands are not considered. The leaders have also warned of disrupting the entire rail traffic on the hill section in the future to protest against this new decision.
The Railways should look into their demands and consider the option of introducing additional coaches in the train to and from Lower Haflong to Lumding so that the people of the hills continue to enjoy the exclusive benefits of this special train. However, to protest the extension of this train up to Barak Valley would be undemocratic and against the ethos of peaceful coexistence.Moreover, the present route of the Hill Queen Express does not cover almost one third of the Dima Hasao district. The railway line inside the district extends up to Bandarkhal on the way to Badarpur, which is almost 75 kilometres from Lower Haflong. The extension of the train up to Silchar will take it to many important railway stations of the Dima Hasao district such as Jatinga and Harangajao.
The Dima Hasao district and Barak Valley have peacefully coexisted for years. Both the regions have benefitted from each other in many ways. While the people of Barak Valley have travelled through Dima Hasao both by rail and road to reach mainland India, Dima Hasao has benefitted from having a major business centre like Silchar in its vicinity. In fact, the extension of this train also means that Haflong will have another means of communication to reach Silchar, which will definitely boost the district’s economy.
Therefore, the people of both the regions must come together and help in improving the connectivity of the entire southern Assam. We have fought the battle for the introduction of broad gauge in the region together and so, should not let such narrow sentiments come in the way of our mutual harmony and brotherhood.