India and Bangladesh would soon sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to set up a railway link between Tripura capital Agartala and Bangladesh's southeastern city of Akhaurah, officials here said Friday.
At a cost of Rs.271 crore, India will build a 15-km railway track linking Agartala with Akhaurah which is an important railway junction connected to the Chittagong international port, resource-rich Sylhet and Dhaka.
Of the 15-km rail line, five km of track falls in the Indian territory and the remaining in Bangladesh.
A six-member inter-ministerial team, led by Radhika L. Lokesh, joint secretary in the external affairs ministry, is now on an on-the-spot final study in Tripura.
"The inter-ministerial team after visiting Tripura would submit a report to the government of India. Then, the Indian government would approach the Bangladesh government to sign the MoU," a Tripura government official told reporters.
"After signing the MoU, the actual works of the railway project would start," the official said.
The new railway project to connect the two neighbouring countries was decided by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Bangladesh Premier Sheikh Hasina during her visit to India in January 2010.
"The Indian Railway Construction Company (IRCON) would lay the new railway tracks on both sides of the border," an official of the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) said.
"With the establishment of the new railway link, northeast India would be connected to the Chittagong international sea port by rail," he added.
Surface connectivity is an important factor as the landlocked northeastern states are surrounded by Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and China and the only land route to these states from within India is through Assam and West Bengal. But this route passes through over 70 percent hilly terrain with steep roads and multiple hairpin bends.
For ferrying goods and heavy machinery to the northeast from abroad and other parts of the country, India has for long been seeking land, sea and rail access through Bangladesh.
Agartala, for instance, is 1,650 km from Kolkata and 2,637 km from New Delhi via Guwahati and West Bengal, whereas the distance between the Tripura capital and Kolkata through Bangladesh is just about 350 km.
The NFR is now laying tracks to connect Tripura's southern most border town Sabroom, 135 km south of here. From Sabroom, the Chittagong international sea port is just 72 km.