Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday virtually flagged off the Vande Bharat Express connecting New Jalpaiguri with Guwahati and said the new semi-high-speed train service would strengthen the relations between Bengal and Assam and boost tourism in the Northeast.
The train, which was flagged off from Guwahati, will run every day, except Tuesdays, and cover a distance of 411km in five-and-a-half hours.
“We are working for the improvement of train connectivity in the Northeast and there has been a considerable increase in budgetary allocations for the region. It will strengthen the ties between Assam and Bengal and augment the ease of travel. Students can avail themselves of the benefit of the train service, which will also contribute to a boost in the tourism and business sectors,” said Modi.
Vande Bharat Express is the first-of-its-kind train in the Northeast and the second in north Bengal. The other train runs between NJP and Howrah.
Railway sources said the regular service would commence from both NJP and Guwahati on May 31. It will leave NJP at 6.10am and reach Guwahati at 11.40am. While returning, the train will depart from Guwahati at 4.30pm to reach NJP at 10pm.
As the train service was introduced, the BJP government at the Centre played a balancing act as railway authorities announced that the train would also stop at New Cooch Behar station.
After the service was announced, there were reports that it would stop only in New Alipurduar.
This had led to protests and Trinamul Congress leaders and supporters demonstrated in New Cooch Behar. The BJP MPs, including Union minister of state for home affairs Nisith Pramanik, who is also the Cooch Behar MP, were accused of sitting silently as residents of Cooch Behar were deprived of the service.
“This is complete bias as there are more stops for the train in Assam than Bengal,” Abhijit De Bhowmik, the Cooch Behar district Trinamul president, had alleged.
As railway officials came up with the train’s details on Monday, they confirmed that the train would stop in New Cooch Behar, which is barely 25km from New Alipurduar where also the train will halt.
“It has come as a face-saver for Nisith Pramanik and also for the BJP MLAs of Cooch Behar. If the stop was not announced, Trinamul would have made it an issue, much to the discomfort of the saffron camp,” said an observer.
Along with the new train service, Modi also inaugurated two electrified sections in the Northeast and a DEMU/MEMU shed at Lumding, the headquarters of Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) in Assam.
Hundreds of people gathered at railway stations and crossings to catch a glimpse of the Vande Bharat Express as it made its inaugural journey.