‘Zero Rajdhani’ bypassing Assam capital bridges time gap

A special superfast train via Bogibeel, India’s longest rail-road bridge across the Brahmaputra, covers 117 km less than the regular Rajdhani route between New Delhi and Dibrugarh

Bogibeel, India’s longest rail-and-road bridge across the Brahmaputra, had in December 2018 brought the two “emotionally connected” banks of eastern Assam closer by more than seven hours.

A ‘zero Rajdhani’ train via this 4.94 km bridge has now brought the people of the two banks closer to New Delhi by more than 100 km.

The 02505/02506 between New Delhi and Dibrugarh on October 12 is technically not a Rajdhani, a superfast train whose number starts with 2 while those of mail express trains start with 1. The zero makes it a special train, the likes of which are operated temporarily.

“The train will officially become the biweekly Rajdhani we had planned to introduce from May 3 once train services in the country become regular. The plan had to be shelved because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Subhanan Chanda, spokesperson of the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR).

Railway officials said the special ‘Rajdhani’ could be the first of its kind, deviating from the definition of such trains – connecting the national capital with the capitals or nearest largest city of the States. The train bypasses Guwahati, Assam’s principal city and the original terminal for the Rajdhani, by some 50 km.

For people in Dibrugarh and the eastern part of Arunachal Pradesh, what matters more is the option of reaching Delhi or any other stations on the route of ‘normal’ Rajdhanis faster. The track via Bogibeel is 117 shorter than the regular Rajdhani route through Guwahati.

Gateway to Arunachal Pradesh

“Our town, one of Assam’s oldest, is often called the gateway to Arunachal Pradesh. But we had to catch superfast trains from Naharlagun [near Arunachal capital Itanagar] to Delhi at Harmuti, about 30 km away. We may not have got the real Rajdhani yet, but the fact that a special one now halts here augurs well for us,” said Sailen Baruah, a resident of North Lakhimpur, headquarters of Assam’s Lakhimpur district.

He said the people of Lakhimpur and Dibrugarh districts had always been psychologically, economically and culturally linked to Dibrugarh but the river in between forced them to maintain distance. The alternative was a 12-hour road trip via the Kaliabhomora bridge across the Brahmaputra miles west of Bogibeel or a time-consuming river ferry service.

The special ‘Rajdhani’ is the fourth pair of passenger trains connecting North Lakhimpur and Dibrugarh since the Tinsukia-Naharlagun Express introduced on December 26, 2018, five days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Bogibeel Bridge.

“The train and road service via Bogibeel not only energised the local economy and cultural exchanges but also helped people in Lakhimpur and Dhemaji district access medical care in Dibrugarh faster. Almost 80% of the passengers of the pre-lockdown trains travelled for treatment or diagnosis,” Mr. Baruah said.

“Faster trains are an alternative to Lilabari Airport, where the frequency of flights has reduced drastically over the years. Some trains have saved us the trouble of staying a night in Guwahati to catch trains or flights out of the region, but the north bank [of Brahmaputra] needs more long-distance trains,” said Sazzad Hussain.

Such was the outflow of patients that a private nursing home had to close down the only intensive care unit in North Lakhimpur, other residents said.

The bridge had also made connectivity between the eastern and western halves of Arunachal Pradesh faster. “We are looking forward to the resumption of regular train services to save on travel time,” said B. Namchoom of Namsai in eastern Arunachal Pradesh.

On the flip side, the bridge has led to traffic congestion in Dibrugarh. “Half the vehicles on the streets here are from Lakhimpur and Dhemaji districts,” said local resident Rukmini Bora.

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