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|Howrah–New Jalpaiguri line|
|Operator(s)||Eastern Railway, Northeast Frontier Railway|
|Line length||588 km (365 mi)|
|Track gauge||1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) Broad gauge|
Electrified between Howrah and Pakur (ER)Electrified between Old Malda Junction and Kumedpur (NFR)
The Howrah–New Jalpaiguri line is a railway line connecting Howrah with New Jalpaiguri railway station in North Bengal in the Indian state of West Bengal. The line continues through North Bengal and southern part of Assam to connect with Guwahati. The Naihati–Bandel link allows trains from another terminus Sealdah in Calcutta to use this route. The line uses a major part of the Barharwa–Azimganj–Katwa loop. Many trains use an alternative line between Howrah and New Farakka, via Bardhaman and Barharwa. Other parts of West Bengal and Bihar are well-connected to this line. It is under the administrative jurisdiction of Eastern Railway and Northeast Frontier Railway.
During the British period all connections to North Bengal were through the eastern part of Bengal. From 1878, the railway route from Calcutta (now spelt Kolkata) to Siliguri was in two laps. The first lap was a 185 km journey along the Eastern Bengal State Railway from Calcutta Station (later renamed Sealdah) to Damookdeah Ghat on the southern bank of the Padma River, then across the river in a ferry and the second lap of the journey. A 336 km metre gauge line of the North Bengal Railway linked Saraghat on the northern bank of the Padma to Siliguri.
The 1.8 km long Hardinge Bridge across the Padma came up in 1912. Presently, it is between the Paksey and Bheramara stations on the broad gauge line between Darshana and Parbatipur in Bangladesh. In 1926 the metre gauge section north of the bridge was converted to broad gauge, and so the entire Calcutta-Siliguri route became broad gauge. The route thus ran: Sealdah–Ranaghat–Bheramara–Hardinge Bridge–Iswardi–Santahar–Hili–Parabtipur–Nilphamari–Haldibari–Jalpaiguri–Siliguri.
With the partition of India in 1947, a major portion of the Calcutta-Siliguri line ran through East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. With several rail links in Bihar, the attention was on those links, and new links were developed. However, one hurdle stood out. There was no bridge across the Ganga river even in Bihar. A generally acceptable route to Siliguri was via Sahibganj Loop to Sakrigali ghat. Across the Ganges by ferry to Manihari Ghat. Then metre gauge via Katihar and Barsoi to Kishanganj and finally narrow gauge to Sliguri. In 1949 Kishanganj-Siliguri section was converted to metre gauge.
In the early 1960s, when Farakka Barrage was being constructed, a far reaching change was made. Indian Railways constructed a new broad-gauge rail link from south Bengal. New Jalpaiguri, a new broad gauge station was built south of Siliguri Town. The 37 km (23 mi) long 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) wide broad gauge line was constructed from Khejuriaghat, on the north bank of the Padma to Malda between 1959 and 1963.
The 2,240 m (7,350 ft) long Farakka Barrage carries a rail-cum-road bridge across the Ganges. The rail bridge was opened in 1971 thereby linking the Barharwa-Azimganj-Katwa loop to Malda Town, New Jalpaiguri and other railway stations in North Bengal.
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway came up as a narrow gauge (2 feet) railway in 1881. In 1915, it was extended up the Teesta Valley to Gielle Kola and to the south to Kishenganj. In 1949 Kishanganj - Siliguri was converted from narrow-gauge to metre-gauge and extended north-east into Assam, partly along the narrow-gauge Teesta Valley route. Along with development of the metre gauge line, a new Siliguri Junction station, north of the traditional Siliguri Town station, became the main station in the area. With the development of the broad gauge system and the New Jalpaiguri station, the narrow gauge DHR was extended to New Jalpaiguri.
The earlier Siliguri-Kishanganj metre gauge line is now part of the Siliguri-Kishnaganj-Katihar metre gauge line. Part of the metre gauge track runs parallel to the broad gauge track and part of it has a separate route.
The Siliguri-Haldibari, part of the original broad gauge Calcutta-Siliguri track via Hardinge Bridge, got delinked from the trunk route because of partition in 1947. As all the other tracks in the area were metre gauge, it was converted from broad gauge to mere gauge in the late forties. When New Jalpaiguri station came up, the line was extended to New Jalpiguri. When broad gauge lines were laid in the area, it was reconverted to broad gauge and now functions as the Haldibari-New Jalpaiguri Line.
The railway system in Assam got delinked from the rest of India in 1947. In order to establish a link with Assam, the Assam Rail Link Project, connecting Kishanganj with Fakirgram was started on a war footing on 26 January 1948. A 229 km long metre gauge line was built and commissioned in two years. The Kishanganj branch of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was taken over and converted to metre gauge. It was connected to the North Eastern Railway network at Barsoi. The Teesta Valley Line up to Sivok was taken over and converted to metre gauge. The link spanned three major rivers - Teesta, Torsha, and Sankosh . The Kishanganj-Naxalbari section was completed on 31 July 1948, the Naxalbari-New Bagrakot section on 26 January 1950, the Madarihat-Hashimara section on 25 December 1949 and Alipurduar-Fakirgram section on 26 January 1950.
In the seventies a new broad gauge line was laid between New Jalpaiguri and Guwahati. The entire Barauni-Katihar-Guwahati line is being electrified.
The Katihar-Barsoi-Raiganj-Radhikapur-Dinajpur-Parabatipur line is now operated on the Indian side up to Radhikapur only. The transit facility in the Radhikapur-Birol sector is virtually closed. The railway track on the Indian side has been converted to broad gauge while that on the Bangladesh side remains metre gauge.
The 87.26 kilometres (54.22 mi) long Eklakhi–Balurghat broad gauge line was opened in 2004. Extension of the Eklakhi-Balurghat branch line to Hili was announced in the Rail Budget for 2010-11.
See also Barharwa-Azimganj-Katwa loop for other branch lines along this route.
On the entire stretch between Howrah to New Jalpaiguri only line between Howrah to Pakur is electrified. Electrification is proceeding on some stretches and is due to be complete in coming years and left over parts are to be completed by 2020. The electrification project between Sainthia to Pakur is also a sanctioned work and is completed in 2015. As per Vision 2020 the left over part between Pakur – New Farakka - Malda Town - Kumedpur 128 km are to be electrified by the year 2020.