Assam Bengal Railway

Assam Bengal Railway was conceived in the late eighties of the nineteenth century with the objective of developing communication system of the eastern region of British India, particularly, Assam and Eastern Bengal. By that time, railways had come to expand in different parts of the subcontinent. In the eastern region, the only important railway system was the eastern bengal railway extending from calcutta to Kushtia near the confluence of the river garai with the ganges. In 1870, an extension was made up to Goalanda at the confluence of the brahmaputra and the Ganges. It was not before 1902 that this line was further extended up to Dhubri in Assam. The line to Goalanda was expected to absorb the traffic passing through that place in boats and newly introduced steamships along the Ganges between Calcutta and the northwest and along the Brahmaputra between Calcutta and the northeast.

But in practice the traffic was found, for the major part, to adopt the traditional route along the main channels of the Ganges via the sundarbans facing hardships in the process and incurring high expenses. About this time, an overseas market had been created for tea, the principal product of Assam and Eastern Bengal, and jute, the principal product of the districts of Eastern Bengal, especially Dhaka and Mymensingh. The projected Assam Bengal Railway was to ensure an easy outlet for these products through the port of Chittagong for overseas markets. About the middle of the nineteenth century, Pegu or Lower Burma was incorporated in British India. The years following saw a growing trade with the newly conquered territory through the port of Chittagong.

There was regular traffic between Dhaka and Chittagong even in the pre-railway age. Dhaka was connected with this port by a road. The Assam Bengal Railway was expected to absorb this traffic as well. All these were expected to lead to the steady economic development of the area. The Assam Bengal Railway Company was formed in 1892. For its construction, the line was divided into three sections: one from Chittagong to Badarpur with branches to Silchar and laksham; the other from Badarpur to Lumding; and the third, from Gauhati to Lumding and further north, to Makum. The first of these, the Chittagong-Cachhar section, was ready for traffic by 1898. The second, called the hill section, took nearly eleven years to be completed. The line passed through tracts having different altitudes, presenting grave problems to the engineers. The supply of labour and materials for construction and even of food for workers proved to be difficult.

However, the section started functioning from 1904. The line was then extended to the tea growing areas of Upper Assam and to the jute growing areas of Mymensingh and Dhaka via Bhairab Bazar. The Eastern Bengal Railway to Calcutta port also extended the railway to Chandpur so that traffic could move by steamer to Goalanda and then. By 1904, ie by the time the Assam Bengal Railway started functioning throughout its length, the export of tea and jute through the Chittagong port had sharply increased. The total value of the trade of the port was Rs 39.23 million in 1904 and it rose to Rs 183.25 million in 1928. The Assam Bengal Railway was amalgamated with the Eastern Bengal Railway in 1942 when the line was renamed the Bengal and Assam Railway. [Hena Mukherjee]