How do you take a train to a place that has no railway tracks? Simple, by air!
Barring sparsely used metre gauge branch lines touching its border with Assam at Bhalukpong and Murkokseleng, Arunachal Pradesh has no railway tracks. But that has not stopped the railway ministry — with help from the defence ministry — from planning to airlift a train to Itanagar much before it is put on India’s railway map.
The idea, says Arunachal Pradesh governor JJ Singh, is to give the common people of Arunachal Pradesh a taste of trains before they can actually get to board them. "The plan was worth pushing as many people here have never set eyes on a train," said the former army chief.
So the retired general met Union Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav some time back and had a toy train approved. "Yadav is keen on Arunachal Pradesh getting a narrow gauge train which might have to be airlifted with help from the defence ministry," Singh told the Hindustan Times.
Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) officials here are yet to receive an official intimation but they can spare a locomotive and coaches from the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. "Apart from Southern Railway, we are the only zone that can provide the toy train," said a senior NFR officer, adding trucks can also ferry the train if meant for static display. "Complications arise when the train is required to run."
What will chug here for the time being is a toy train of the amusement park kind. Singh has used the services of the army’s 4th Corps based at Tezpur in Assam to ready the Nyokum Lapang ground here for the toy train tracks. The track will run on the periphery of the ground that will also have an astroturf football field in the middle.
Some private firms — they include Matrix owned by Singh’s son-in-law — have donated heavily for the train-before-tracks dream in Arunachal Pradesh. "The way things are moving, the park should be ready soon," the ex-army chief said.
Arunachal Pradesh, incidentally, has been the most vociferous among the northeastern states for railway connectivity. Mizoram too had pushed for a toy train project near Aizawl a couple of years back, but the idea lost steam midway. The prospects for Arunachal Pradesh brightened after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh showed the green signal for the 32 km Harmuti (Assam)-Naharlagun (near Itanagar) railway project. "We have carried out the survey and are set for the groundwork," said NFR spokesman Trikalagya Rabha.