The Northeast Frontier Railway plans to preserve metre-gauge tracks, which have been a
THE history of economic development in the North-East (the undivided Assam during the British period) is deeply linked with the advent of the Railways into the region in the late 19th century.
It was the Assam Railway and Trading Company that laid the 65-km-long metre-gauge line between Dibrugarh and Makum collieries in Margherita to start a railway operation in 1881 for transporting tea and coal from the region to other places through the Brahmaputra Waterway.
It was after the Partition that a separate Assam Railway was formed in 1947 with the headquarters in Pandu. Subsequently, an Assam rail link between Kishanganj and Fakiragram was constructed in 1949 to link it to the all-India railway network. The Assam Railway was then compounded with the North-Eastern Railway with the headquarters at Gorakhpur. It later became the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) of today, one of the 16 zonal railways in the country.
Headquartered in Maligaon in Guwahati, the NFR is responsible for rail operations in the entire North-East and parts of West Bengal, including the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) as well as parts of Bihar. The NFR is`A0divided into five divisions: Tinsukia, Lumding, Rangiya, Alipurdaur and Katihar.
Taking into account the rich history of its operations in the enchanting North-East, the NFR has chalked out a plan to preserve two metre-gauge (MG) tracks — 120 km-long ‘Mahur –Harangajao’ hill section in North Cachar Hill district (now called Dima Hasao district) of Assam and 10 km-long "Siliguri —Bagdogra" section in West Bengal.
"The NFR wants to preserve these tracks to keep alive its glorious journey on metre-gauge tracks, which had been a catalyst for the economic`A0development of the north-eastern region. It has been a boon for the effort that the incumbent General Manager of the NFR, Keshav Chandra, got rich experience in the heritage management of the Kalka-Shimla Himalayan Railways while he was the Divisional Railway Manager in Ambala division," an NFR public relations official Jayanta Sharma informs.
The Mahur-Harangajao metre gauge section, which is being preserved, is unique for the presence of numerous tunnels in the section that`A0still stand out as architectural marvels. The journey is a mixture of joy and adventure in this hilly section, which will be preserved while the entire metre-gauge track from Lumding to Silchar through North Cachar Hill district in Assam is being converted into broad gauge.
"The NFR will keep the Mahur-Harangajao metre-gauge section ready, for operation on demand by any government or non-government agency which wants to tap the tourism potential of the picturesque hill section, a glittering piece of history for the Railways," the Railway official said, adding that a similar strategy is being chalked out for the "Siliguri-Bagdogra" metre-gauge section as part of the heritage preservation initiatives of the NFR.
The NFR’s recent heritage initiatives are not confined to only these two age-old metre-gauge sections. It has established a heritage park called the Rail Heritage Park-cum-Museum at New Tinsukia station in eastern Assam at the confluence of two historic railway systems — Dibru Sadiya Railway (DSR) and Assam Bengal Railway (ABR), which were linked at Tinsukia on March 1, 2003. The museum has DSR and ABR as its central themes and also contains a small gallery showcasing the heritage of the unique Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), the crowning jewel of the heritage property under the NFR.
The DHR is the famous 610 mm-wide narrow gauge railway that snakes up the Himalayas from Siliguri to Darjeeling for 88 km and provides the unique opportunity of an adventurous ride for the tourists coming from all over the world. The DHR is a World Heritage Site, as recognised by UNESCO since November 2, 1999. The still-operational DHR was made operational in 1881 across one of the most scenic mountainous terrains of the world by virtue of ingenuous engineering solutions.
Designed in the form of a park, the heritage museum in Tinsukia station exhibits the rich heritage of Indian Railways in general and the Northeast Frontier Railway in particular. Notable among the exhibits are the narrow-gauge steam locomotive number 781 that was built in 1899 for DHR, an AC indoor exhibition gallery modelled after the historic Lekhapani station of the erstwhile Dibrua Sadiya Railway, Virasat — the heritage hall that houses vintage steam and diesel locos of the metre-gauge era.
An age-old steam turntable loco of 1892 built in the UK and bridge pillars built between 1894 and 1898 are conspicuous in the museum, reflecting the pioneering efforts of the Railways to conquer the difficult terrain in the North-East.
Another heritage landmark of the NFR would be the Lekhapani station under Tinsukia division. It is the eastern most on the railway map of India. It was constructed on the metre-gauge track around 1890 by then Assam Railway and Trading Company. It was a major coal-loading terminal for the nearby Tipong collieries. The last coal shuttle train ran to this station on the MG line on February 17, 1997.
During World War II, Lekhapani station played a key role in the movement of the Allied armed forces. The station marks the starting point of the historic Stillwel Road built by the Allied Army during World War II linking Kunming in China through India and Burma (Myanmar).
The Railways have declared the century-old Cooch Behar railway station in West Bengal under the NFR as a heritage structure to preserve its historical significance. The historic railway station will be reconstructed with a design from the royal era of the past under a Rs 7-crore project. There will be a railway museum in the newly built station. Already a heritage museum has been set up in the existing railway station at Cooch Behar, displaying numerous artifacts, including vintage photographs of the erstwhile Cooch Behar State Railway (CBSR), age-old furniture, track fittings and fixtures.
The erstwhile princely state of Cooch Behar had its 35-km-long railway track on narrow gauge during the regime of Maharaja Nripendra Narayan. The railway track was first laid in 1893 from Gitaldah to Ghughumari to link the state with East Bengal Railway. The first passenger train on this`A0line was operated on March 1, 1894. Though the station building in Cooch Behar was ready on December 15, 1898, the first train arrived in the station from outside only on June 15, 1900, after the inauguration of the rail bridge over the Torsa river.
The Northeast Frontier
Railway also has a plan to reconstruct Agartala railway station in
Tripura and Kamakya station in Guwahati in tune with the royal and
cultural heritage attached to those.