Come Saturday, Meghalaya will be on rail map

Shillong: Bijay K. Marak, the first train driver among Garo tribesmen, will be a happy man Saturday when Prime Minister Narendra Modi flags off the first passenger train between Assam's Guwahati and Meghalaya's Garo Hills.

"I am content that the first train is scheduled to chug to Meghalaya on Saturday and the state will now be connected to the national railway grid," Marak, who drives different kinds of locomotives, told IANS over phone from Guwahati.

"The train service will not improve the road connectivity but will bring rapid socio-economic development to the people of Garo Hills," said Marak, who started his first journey as a train driver in 1995.

In fact, Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma said: "This railway service would bring great economic changes for the state as it was one of the crucial projects that the state requested from the central government."

Modi will flag-off the new line to Mendipathar in Meghalaya's North Garo Hills from Maligaon in Guwahati in the presence of Sangma and other ministers. He will later address the people of Garo Hills through video conferencing.

The distance between the two stations is 131 km and a passenger train would now run daily between Mendhipathar and Guwahati via Dudhnoi in Assam's Goalpara district.

Meghalaya is a landlocked state and is dependent on land transport. Due to this, prices of most items are comparatively higher than in most other parts of the country.

The railways had planned to chug the first train into Mendipathar April 1, but abandoned the plan due to the model code of conduct duing the parliament elections.

However, the Modi government in its first railway budget announced the first passenger train between Guwahati and Mendipathar in Meghalaya's North Garo Hills region.

The project was approved in 1992-93, but faced hurdles during its initial days due to opposition from the local population.

Although this is the first time a train would chug into Meghalaya after it attained statehood in 1972, the region is one of the first places in India to have the railways.

In 1895-96, the British provincial government of united Assam built the Cherra Companyganj State Railways which was one of the first railway projects of that era.

It was a contemporary of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways or "Toy Train" now listed as a World heritage.

Railways have been opposed in Meghalaya by the influential Khasi Students' Union, claiming it would encourage influx. Projects like the Byrnihat-Shillong project, which is slated to be completed by 2018, thus stand threatened.

Chief Minister Sangma said Meghalaya had missed many opportunities in bringing the railways in the past.

"We have to open up and also change our mindset," he said referring to the opposition against the railways from some groups in Meghalaya.

He said the railways would change the socio-economic landscape of the state and would benefit everyone by providing employment to the youth and giving better markets to farmers.

Sangma said the facility will generate new hope for the people. "People should not have the perception of alienation and all fear of the people should be allayed."

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