The Kanchenjunga Express now operates from Silchar to Sealdah thrice a week. Though an absolutely ordinary train with a whopping 31 stoppages between Sealdah and Guwahati, this extension has brought much needed relief to the people of Barak Valley. For the first ever time 68 years after independence, our valley has got a direct rail connectivity to mainland India beyond Guwahati.
With the ensuing rail budget, we do expect the Railway Minister to extend this train to Silchar daily along with some more new extensions. However, the manner in which this train has been extended has left a sour taste among the people of the valley. Here’s why:
Initially, an announcement was made to send a link train of the Kanchenjunga instead of the main rake to Silchar, which would have meant that the passengers would have had to continue the age old practice of changing trains at Guwahati. Due to intense public outcry, the decision was fortunately withdrawn within a day and a direct train was started.
Now, even after the beginning of the direct Silchar – Sealdah services, one cannot book an AC 2 Tier ticket between the two places. While the sole AC 2 tier rake of the train does travel to and fro to Silchar, one can only book tickets in it between Silchar and Guwahati and not beyond. This clearly suggests that the Railways reckon that the AC 2 Tier coach should be availed only by the passengers from Guwahati.
Even the number of AC 3 Tier tickets available between Silchar and Sealdah are limited to only 32 and the quota is not befitting Silchar’s stature as the originating station of such a long distance express train. When the Kanchenjunga Express has four AC 3 Tier coaches in total and Silchar is the second most important station after Guwahati, why should there be such a miniscule number of seats for its passengers?
These apart, the lack of pantry facilities in the train is a major turn off for the passengers. Between Silchar and Guwahati, the train stops only at Badarpur and New Haflong and has a running time of about 12 hours, yet no thought has been given towards adding a pantry van to the train. Catering facilities at New Haflong are rather limited and insufficient to cater to the requirements of the entire train.
The central government wants to project the beginning of broad gauge services from Silchar as a major developmental step forward during the ensuing assembly polls in Assam. It must also be complimented for the rapid completion of the gauge conversion work. But these little issues need urgent attention, otherwise the good work done may not bear the expected results.
It is a pity that the people of Barak Valley have to struggle for every little piece of development. The lackadaisical attitude of the Railways regarding introducing new trains almost a year after the completion of the broad gauge corridor is another example of this unfortunate fact. With the Assam elections round the corner, the railway extension will be a major political issue.
Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi is already trying to score some initial points by writing to the Railway Minister requesting the renaming of the Silchar station as ‘Bhasha Shahid station’ and extension of some trains such as the North East Express to Silchar. We, the people of the valley, would not mind the politicization, as long as it brings us the right results.