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Tracks & trains for ‘backward’ region

Siliguri, Oct. 4: Railway minister Mamata Banerjee today flagged off the Sealdah-New Jalpaiguri (tri-weekly) Express and promised a host of new trains and projects for the region at a programme to lay the foundation stone for a multi-functional complex at Siliguri Junction.

After assuming office as railway minister, this is Mamata’s first visit to north Bengal.

The projects include a “rail bus service” in which one or two coaches will be pulled by a diesel loco on the Siliguri-Bagdogra route at regular intervals. The conversion of the Changrabandha-New Malbazar route from metre gauge to broad is expected to provide opportunities to traders to use the railways for import from and export to Bangladesh. The promise of a railway museum at Cooch Behar palace is an added attraction and had been worked out keeping in mind the tourists.

“We are determined to develop the railway infrastructure in Siliguri and north Bengal as a whole with focus on socio-economic development and employment generation,” Mamata said. “A number of projects have been taken up and some more are in the pipeline. We will execute all these projects as we want to pass on the message that the railways can contribute in comprehensive development of a backward region like north Bengal.”

The railway minister said the processing of smaller projects like track links between Mirik and Gangtok, Samsing and Jaldhaka, Hasimara and Phuentsholing and Balurghat and Hilli had started. “We will, in due time, execute these projects. Another ambitious project that we will initiate next week is laying of the railway track between Sevoke and Rangpo in Sikkim where Rs 1,013 crore would be spent.”

The conversion of the track between Siliguri Junction and Aluabari (in Islampur), a distance of 73 km, from metre to broad gauge was already on, the minister said. “We have instructed railway officials to expedite the work and finish it at the earliest.”

The multi-functional complex at Siliguri Junction would be like the many others that are expected to come up across the country. “We had named a number of stations where such complexes would be constructed but we started with Siliguri,” she said.

Officials of the Northeast Frontier Railway said the complex would house an exclusive market complex and a 100-bed passenger retiring room. It will have underground parking facilities and several shops including PCOs, Internet cafes, restaurants, foodstalls and pharmacies — all under one roof.

After the function at Siliguri Junction, the railway minister’s convoy headed for NJP where she flagged off the Sealdah-NJP Express or Padatik Express in memory of poet Subhash Mukhopadhyay.

“Since there is a shortage of rakes, we will run this train only thrice a week now. Once we receive the coaches, the train would run regularly. It will be another superfast train to connect Siliguri and Calcutta apart from the Darjeeling Mail,” she said.

Officials of the NFR said the Padatik Express, 2377Up & 2378Dn, will leave NJP every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 9pm while from Sealdah it will depart at 10.55pm every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. During her visit to north Bengal next week, Mamata is expected to flag off the intercity express between Siliguri Junction and Balurghat and visit Cooch Behar.

Tomorrow, she will flag off the NJP-Digha (weekly) Express, railway officials said. She will stay at the railway rest house at New Jalpaiguri for the night.

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