Guwahati/New Jalpaiguri: People in large numbers gathered at railway stations and crossings to catch a glimpse of the Guwahati-New Jalpaiguri Vande Bharat Express as the semi-high speed train hurtled through the green fields of the northeast on its inaugural run.

The region’s first Vande Bharat Express aims to boost tourism, connectivity, trade and by cutting down the travel time between the two cities by more than an hour.

College-goers in traditional dresses danced to Bihu tunes, schoolchildren waved the tricolour and people threw flowers to welcome the train at its five stoppages — Kamakhya, New Bongaigaon, Kokrajhar, New Alipurduar and New Coochbehar — between Guwahati in Assam and New Jalpaiguri in West Bengal.

“This is a proud moment not only for Assam but the entire northeast. One of the most premium trains of the country is now operating in our region and it is a proud feeling,” Majuni Begum, a college student, said at the Kokrajhar station.

People clicked selfies with the train in the background, while during its brief stoppages, youngsters filmed the interiors with their mobile phones for short videos for their social media accounts.

The train, which was flagged off virtually by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, will operate six days a week and according to a railway brochure, “This will be the fastest train in this sector and will benefit IT professionals, businessmen, students and tourists”.

Explaining the service’s benefit, BJP Cooch Behar MP and Union minister Nisith Pramanik said people will now get faster access to tourist destinations not only in north Bengal but also Assam and beyond.

This will give a fillip to the region’s tourism economy as well as become a medium of faster connectivity between the two cities and business points, he said on board the train, which will cut the commute time between the two cities by more than an hour.

Currently, the fastest trains takes six-and-a-half hours for the 411-km journey .

“Faster travel means better business opportunities,” said Bhabesh Das at the Guwahati Station said. “This is an exclusive train between the two cities with better timings. It will cut the dependency on long distance trains that have timings not comfortable to traders.”

The Vande Bharat will leave New Jalpaiguri at 6:10 am and reach Guwahati at 11:40 am. Its return journey would start at 4:30 pm and arrived at 10 pm.

Half-way through the journey at Kokrajhar, a troupe of Bihu dancers performed onboard the express train to the tune traditional drums.

“The train looks sleek and modern. With this, we will be able to go to Guwahati for university works,” said Priyanka, a college student and one of the performers.

As part of the flag off of the first Vande Bharat train allotted to Assam, a number of students from schools in Guwahati interacted with Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw and travelled to New Jalpaiguri.

One of the students, Bikash, said he was delighted to board one of India’s fastest trains. “This a semi-high-speed train. We had only heard of it, but now have go the opportunity travel on it.”

The new Vande Bharat train is the 18th for the country, the first for Assam and the third for West Bengal after the Puri-Howrah and Howrah-New Jalpaiguri services.

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The railways minister said all the Vande Bharat trains are getting an overwhelming response. These are not only connecting cities but entire regions.

Pramanik said the three Vande Bharat trains have formed a religious circuit of sorts. He was talking about the train connecting the beach town of Puri in Odisha, famous for the Jagannath temple, to Assam’s Guwahati, famous for its Kamakhya temple.

Also Read | PM Modi flags off Guwahati-NJP Vande Bharat Express

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