PM to launch first train in Meghalaya today

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Shillong, Nov 29: Today is a red–letter day for Meghalaya. On this historic day, railway trains will literally start chugging through the clouds! The first train into Meghalaya – Abode of the Clouds – is being ceremonially inaugurated by Narendra Modi, on this day, thus putting this picturesque hill state of the Northeastern region on the country’s railway map.

But, looking back, one finds that Meghalaya would have been on the sub–continent’s railway network way back in the 1880s, had an ambitious project – a contemporary of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, which is now a World Heritage – called the Cherra–Companyganj State Railway (CCSR) become a reality. That was a British plan which had envisaged finally linking Shillong, then capital of the composite Assam province, to Kolkata through Mawsmai, Cherrapunjee, Companyganj, Sylhet and Goalandu.

But, dreams do not always die. Though a train journey to Shillong, the Scotland of the East, will take few more years, the great Indian railway network has already embarked upon its grand plan to literally march upwards to the Shillong plateau, with the 19.75 km Dudhnoi–Mendipathar section being just a humble but definitely historic beginning.

While the first train engine as a part of a trial run had already chugged up the serpentine track to Mendipathar on March 31, 2014, the real Red Letter Day however is November 29, 2014, when the prime minister ceremonially declares the line open.

The first attempt to integrate Meghalaya in the country’s railway map was made in modern times in 1992–93 when the government of India had sanctioned the proposed Dudhnoi–Depa railway line in the 1992–93 budget.

That project however could not be turned into reality due to public resistance over land transfer along the proposed line, following which the Government of Meghalaya suggested relocating it to Mendipathar instead of Depa. While the final location survey was completed in 2007, the track was finally completed in March 2014, to be ultimately blessed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 29.

The 19.75 km line that takes off from Dudhnoi station in Assam’s Goalpara district comprises of 10.26 km in Assam, with the remainder 9.36 km inside Meghalaya. Dudhnoi station is on the New Bongaigaon–Goalpara–Kamakhya (Guwahati) section and is exactly 108 Kms from Guwahati.

Though work had commenced in November 2008, circumstances beyond control of the railways – like law and order as also land acquisition – did cause some delay, with the last patch of land being handed over only in September 2013. But those were learning experiences as well as challenges that will remain documents in the history of railways in Meghalaya for generations to come.

Laying railway tracks has always been considered quite a daunting task, and literally uphill in a state like Meghalaya. This experience of teams of hard–working persons spending odd hours right from the planning to surveying to the actual laying of tracks would make breath–taking adventure stories, with wild animals, birds and poisonous reptiles, natural calamities like cloudbursts and landslides, and of course gun–toting militants, all adding to the drama and suspense in which these dedicated men have made this railway track see the light of the day.

To complete thirty–seven lakh cubic meters of earthwork, of which 27 lakh cubic meters were for embankments and 10 lakh cubic meters were in cutting the hills to lay the tracks, was like moving mountains to make way for a railway track that is symbolic of development and progress. And then crossing so many rivers, streams and brooks – leading to construction of three major and 52 minor bridges – as also 19 road–under–bridges, just for this distance of 19.75 kms was another Herculean task. .

Engineers, technicians and hundreds of nameless labourer responsible for making it a reality now recall how they had to draw fresh strategies especially to create a passage across a 41–metre tall mountain of hard granite near Km11 of the section.

The hill had to be open cut by blasting, but for that again environment and human safety were top priorities to be kept in mind. Blasting regulations for instance call for police patrolling right from picking up gelatine sticks from the supplier’s go downs to transporting them to the site, while half–a–dozen drilling machines were deployed leading to final consumption of over 100 metric tons of explosives .

Progress of work was also considerably hindered due to adverse law and order situation in the region. Frequent bandhs and strikes called by different organizations too created hurdles. There were also times when labourer could not travel to work–sites due to security reasons. Night work particularly suffered. But, looking back one can tell with pride that completion of the Dudhnoi–Mendipathar railway line itself is now proof that development can take place despite all odds, and that it is ultimately development that triumphs.

It was indeed a moment of pride for Northeast Frontier Railway when such an uphill project saw the light of the day with the first train engine rolled on Meghalaya soil and chugged up to Mendipathar in the afternoon of March 31, 2014.

The time was exactly 3:18 PM, and all those who were present there at Mendipathar vividly remember the smile of satisfaction and happiness radiating from their faces. It was a moment of pride, of achievement, and of owning a new mode of transport that whose network is spread all over the country.

It was a moment when the heart quietly uttered: Mitella! Thank you. Who says railway trains will not reach the Abode of the Clouds? And more to come:

 Mendipathar however is just the beginning of a new era of surface communication that railways have brought about in Meghalaya. It is also just the first step towards a new chapter of economic development in the hill state known for its beautiful music and dance forms, scenic beauty and of course mouth–watering pineapples, oranges, apples, jackfruits and cashew nuts.

As the prime minister inaugurates the first train to Mendipathar, two new projects are just on the verge of taking off. While the first one will connect Tetelia (in Assam) to Byrnihat with a 21.50 km railway line, the second one will be an extension of the same, a 108.40 km line from Byrnihat, to – yes, Shillong!

While the final location survey of the Meghalaya portion of the Tetelia–Byrnihat project has been already completed, work on major and minor bridges as also on land acquisition is in progress now. And the biggest news is that this has been declared by the Government of India as a “National Project.”

So, as the first train to Mendipathar, which is located in the Garo Hills region of Meghalaya, is being welcomed to the beating of the traditional hundred drums, people in the Khasi–Jaintia region can now start preparing to greet the first train to Shillong with their traditional rhythm of the ksing shynrang and ksing kynthei, coupled with the sharati.

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