Modi, Hasina to jointly inaugurate Akhaura-Agartala rail link on November 1

The rail link, being revived after more than 70 years, is being seen as a first step to connect Tripura, Mizoram and southern Assam to Kolkata through Bangladesh, to replace the longer route via Guwahati

October 30, 2023 11:40 am | Updated November 01, 2023 07:12 am IST - Agartala

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. File

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. File | Photo Credit: KRISHNAN VV

In a historic move, Bangladesh and northeast India will re-establish rail connectivity through Tripura on Wednesday, after a gap of nearly seven and half decades. The much awaited Akhaura-Agartala rail connection will be inaugurated virtually by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said.

The Akhaura-Agartala Cross-Border Rail Link project was supported by a grant assistance of ₹392.52 crore that was extended to Bangladesh by the Indian government, according to an MEA statement. The rail link is 12.24 km long, with a 6.78 km dual gauge rail line in Bangladesh and 5.46 km in Tripura. As part of the preparation, a goods train from Bangladesh carried out a trial run on Monday between the two stations.

The Akhaura junction, located in Bangladesh’s Brahmanbaria district is part of the Chittagong division, and has a rich history of commercial and cultural ties with India’s northeastern region, dating from the colonial era. One of the main drivers behind the initial construction of the Akhaura junction in the late 19th century was the demand from Assam’s tea industry, which wanted a connection to the Chittagong port.

The Akhaura-Agartala project was revived in 2010, when then-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed an agreement to rebuild the connection during Ms. Hasina’s visit to Delhi.

Connectivity boost

At present, Akhaura is connected by rail, river, and road links with multiple industrial areas in Bangladesh, including Dhaka, Chittagong, and Sylhet. Bangladeshi water resource expert Ainun Nishat said that the Akhaura-Agartala rail link would once again open the links links between India’s northeast and Chittagong, noting: “Apart from existing train and road links, there is the Ashuganj river port which is very near Akhaura that will be used to ferry goods to and from Chittagong. This requires no extra effort as Ashuganj is ready as well.”

This rail link is being seen as a first step to connect Tripura to Kolkata through Bangladesh. At present, trains to Agartala must run through a longer route via Guwahati and Jalpaiguri stations. The Akhaura link can vastly reduce the time and distance needed to reach Tripura, southern Assam, and Mizoram from Kolkata, and the rest of India.

Akhaura junction was used during the 1950s and 1960s by people from the northeast seeking access to the East Pakistan market, as well as for transit to Kolkata. But the practice died away in the subsequent years, especially after the shock of the 1971 war. However, Wednesday’s event is unique as it is the first time that Akhaura will be connected to a train station in Agartala itself. The first trains are expected to run between Nishchintapur, which is a designated Land Customs Station (LCS) station under Agartala and Gangasagar station that is located close to Akhaura junction in Bangladesh.

Trade gains

It is understood that the link will boost India-Bangladesh trade in agriculture products, tea, sugar, construction items, iron and steel, and consumer items, as well as people-to-people relationships.

The rail route between Akhaura-Agartala has been projected as a major initiative that will also help in India’s connectivity with the southeast Asian region. Wednesday’s inauguration gains significance as it comes just weeks before the Election Commission of Bangladesh imposes a model code of conduct for their upcoming general election.

Apart from the rail link, the two leaders will also inaugurate the Khulna-Mongla Port rail line and the second unit of the Maitree super thermal power plant. The Khulna-Mongla Port line is supported by a line of credit from India with a total project cost of $388.92 million. Mongla is the second largest port of Bangladesh and the new line will increase the port’s connectivity by linking it to the existing rail network of Khulna.

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