Silchar/New Delhi: Assam's Barak Valley was brought on the broad gauge rail map on Saturday, with Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu flagging off the inaugural passenger train in a long-awaited development that is expected to boost the region's economy.
The valley - home to over 35 lakh people and borders Bangladesh - is one of the most neglected and underdeveloped parts of Assam due to lack of adequate connectivity.
The train chugged into the pristine Barail Hills after setting out from Silchar town in the morning. Minister Prabhu flagged it off over video conference from New Delhi.
The connection will link Barak Valley seamlessly with the rest of India. Goods trains were operating on the section since March.
The newly laid broad gauge line links Lumding and Silchar where the meter guage track was in operation from 1899. The connectivity is the lifeline for millions in Tripura, Manipur and Mizoram besides southern Assam.
"It is an historic moment that people of south Assam are getting an important railway connectivity with rest of the nation," Prabhu said after the flag off.
"More passenger trains will be introduced in near future. This will fulfill the long cherished demand of the people of Barak Valley to have a seamless connectivity," he said.
Sushmita Dev, the Lok Sabha member from Silchar, congratulated the people of the valley on the "historical day".
"A historical day for Barak Valley. My heartiest congratulations to everyone who helped fulfil our dream of the broad gauge project," she tweeted.
Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha and union Minister for Sports and Youth Affairs Sarbananda Sonowal were present at the event at Silchar railway station.
Referring to the excellent relations between India and Bangladesh, Prabhu said Indian Railways would also better the connectivity with Bangladesh.
The train on the new route has 15 coaches including sleeper, AC III tier and Chair Cars. The minimum fare between Silchar and Guwahati is Rs.70 as compared to the Rs.600 fare for bus travel from Silchar to Guwahati.
The 210 km Lumding-Silchar gauge conversion project was sanctioned in 1996-97 and declared a national project in 2004.
The line has 21 tunnels and 79 major bridges. While the longest tunnel is about 3.2 km long, the Dayang Bridge is 54 metres tall.
Jatinga, a place notorious for "bird suicides", is nine km from Haflong and will be connected by the passenger train.