Conversion derails hope train

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By AVIJIT SINHA in Jalpaiguri
  • Published 7.03.04

Jalpaiguri, March 7: Betel nuts and clothes are laid out to dry on tracks and the only semblance of a train is the file of local children playing “train-train” on the unused line.

It has been two years since gauge conversion plans led to the suspension of the meter-gauge train service between Changrabandha and Siliguri junction. No amount of pleading or praying has helped the countless commuters or businessmen make the authorities of Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) move the project beyond the planning stage.

The service, inaugurated by former railway minister Mamata Banerjee in March 2000, was aimed at introducing a new mode of communication in this part of the Dooars and promote trade between Siliguri and Changrabandha.

Two passenger trains, 679 Up and 680 Down, would leave Siliguri Junction Station and stop at New Malbazar station and Domohoni. From Domohoni, the tracks crossed the New Mainaguri station and then led to Changrabandha on the Indo-Bangla border.

Residents of Malbazar, Domohoni, Lataguri and tourists and exporters from Bangladesh cheered the service as it was faster, cheaper and safer than road travel. Residents of these areas, where cultivation and sale of betel nuts are the primary source of income, said the suspension of services had affected trade.

Tapas Biswas, a local resident who deals in betel nuts, said: “When the train service started, it opened up avenues to expand our trade. The sudden disruption of the service has left us in trouble. We expressed our resentment but the authorities turned a deaf ear to our pleas.”

Other traders echoed Biswas. “Businesses in Malbazar, Lataguri and Domohoni have shrunk after the service was stopped,” said Milan Dey, a timber merchant. Residents said tourism too was affected.

“Tourists started coming here because they enjoyed the train ride. Not only did the train pass through scenic areas, the ride was more comfortable than by bus,” said Rajen Pradhan, the vice-chairman of Malbazar Municipality. “It would help if the railway authorities speeded up the process of gauge conversion.”

NFR authorities, however, could not make any promises. Pampa Babbar, the divisional railway manager, Alipurduar, said services would begin “but only after gauge conversion”.

That will have to wait till work is completed on Shamuktala-Siliguri Junction broad-gauge railway service.

“We are carrying out the gauge-conversion work in some other areas like Jogighopa where the route connects with the main route. We are stressing on conversion of these areas to increase the area covered by the broad gauge,” he said.