New Tinsukia railway station in Assam Credit: Rishu Kalantri

Tinsukia: The historic town of Assam, Tinsukia — deemed as lifeline when it comes to railway connectivity with the easternmost part of the country bordering China — remains cut off with the rest of the country even three weeks after extensive damages were reported to railway infrastructure and properties during Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) protest in the second week of December last year.

All long-distance trains leaving New Tinsukia railway station, including Rajdhani Express, remains short-terminated or diverted, as the rail link between Tinsukia and Dibrugarh remains snapped for passenger traffic.

On December 11 and 12, immediately after CAB was passed in Rajya Sabha, protestors torched Chabua, Panitola and Dikom railway stations, besides damaging power houses and railway tracks at multiple locations. Most of the railway-level crossing gates between the two district headquarters were vandalised and damaged in such a manner that they became blockade on National Highway-37, following which entire upper Assam rail connectivity with rest of the country was snapped for several days before partially resuming operations.

Panitola railway station that was torched by CAB protesters in December last year

Speaking with EastMojo, divisional railway manager of Tinsukia railway division Ashish Sharma said that the restoration work of damaged railway infrastructure is taking some time. “The route between Tinsukia and Dibrugarh can be opened only after commissioning of three main stations — Panitola, Chabua and Dikom — besides few other minor stations which were vandalised and torched during CAB protests. It is likely to take around a month for this route to open for passenger trains. Currently, we are only operating goods train through this route at a very slow speed. It is taking almost 3 hours to cover 40-odd km.”

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“However, the main problem for restoring passenger traffic is law and order situation which remains distressful,” Sharma said, adding, “Law and order assurances by state government is key for railways to resume the passenger train movements to normal.”

Sarma said, “All long distance trains, mostly with originating station as Dibrugarh, are either diverted or short-terminated. In this operational arrangement, New Tinsukia railway station remains cut off from other parts of the country.”

There are two railway stations in Tinsukia town — old railway station dating back to 1883 and New Tinsukia railway station (NTSK), where most of the long-distance trains arrive and depart.

New Tinsukia railway station, being the the nearest station giving direct rail connectivity to the easternmost districts of Arunachal Pradesh — Roing, Namsai, Lohit, Tirap, Changlang and Anjaw, not only caters to the railway needs of residents of eastern Arunachal Pradesh, but also remains an important station from defence point of view.

Responding to a question by EastMojo, Sarma said that the main thing required to run a passenger train is its maintenance. “Our major maintenance facility under Tinsukia railway division is at Dibrugarh. Tinsukia has only a limited capacity. Secondly, we cannot change the originating station which in most cases is Banipur railway station in Dibrugarh. Hence, operationally it is not feasible for railways to operate few trains from Tinsukia and few from Dibrugarh, amid the railway connectivity between the two vital stations remaining suspended.”

EastMojo had questioned why is not feasible for railways to operate some long-distance trains (which presently are being operated from Dibrugarh and diverted bypassing Tinsukia) from Tinsukia given that two trains are running between Tinsukia and Guwahati as it will enhance connectivity to Guwahati and few parts of the country making things better for residents from Tinsukia and eastern Arunachal Pradesh.

Sarma said that the present scenario has not just incurred crores of loss to railway on infrastructural front, but has also hit the revenues generated from sales of ticket very badly, only adding to our losses.

Empty counters at Tinsukia PRS (reservation counter) on Monday

The protest has left Tinsukia badly affected on various fronts including railway connectivity. The rail connectivity with even Guwahati has been reduced to two trains — Rangiya Express and Intercity Express – from dozens trains available between the two destinations prior to December 10.

And with the condition of National Highway-37 remaining poor, particularly in upper Assam, it has become a nightmare for residents travelling to Guwahati.

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