he swirling dust around New Haflong Railway Station reflects past, present, and future. Of disaster, rebuilding and development. Of course, it is the advent of spring and it is supposed to be dusty. But it does not belie the fact that work on restoring the Station to its normalcy and beyond is being done at a fast and furious pace by NF Railways. It is surreal for many to believe that the Station has come back to life so fast after being pummelled by nature’s fury.
“When I saw what unfolded before my eyes on May 14, and subsequently, I thought that it will be at least a year before I can resume my business here,” Jameel Ahmed, a tea stall owner in Station, told Asom Barta, while busying himself in preparing lunch boxes to serve passengers of an oncoming train. “It came like a torrent. It was around 7.30-7.35am. We were lucky that the Guwahati-Silchar Dn Passenger train had entered the Station by then. The locals around did everything for stranded passengers,” Ahmed reminisced about the day.
“On 11th May, the rains started. It was raining heavily. On May 14, water came like a deluge from the Greater Haflong area. Five coaches of the stationary train were hurled from the third line to the fifth line. Two muddy towers of 15-20 feet high were formed on platforms No.2 and No.3,” said Anil Kumar, the Superintendent of the Station. “I had witnessed heavy rainfall in 17 years of my service here. But never something like this,” he told this reporter. “In 2013, the MG Line was heavily disrupted because of rains almost like last year’s rains, but nothing compares to the one I witnessed this time,” he said.
On the other hand, on May 13, some 280 kilometres away from the Haflong Station was Anshul Gupta, General Manager, NF Railway brainstorming in his office in Guwahati with other officers. He and his team were worried about what they were seeing on television screens and hearing from the ground. The GM knew it was unlike the heavy rains which he,too, had been witnessing during his posting here. “When I heard news of a few breaches on the section, I knew I had to be there. Water level was rising and my instincts told me that the track would not be safe. We started restricting movement of trains and I rushed to Lumding. I realised what was coming,” said Gupta while recollecting those days, very fresh in his memory.
“We used a push trolley to survey. I saw blocked tunnels, a track hanging, and multiple breaches. Sixty-nine locations were affected. There were six places where hills had been washed away. Nearly 3,000 passengers were stranded,” Gupta said while recollecting how the Air Force was roped in for carrying out 19 sorties to rescue passengers. The damage and the rescue effort were reported across the world.
The seasoned Railway veteran was grateful to all whose efforts resulted in minimal loss of lives. “The rescue operation was a success because of cooperation and efforts from all. Over one lakh passengers had taken shelter across railway stations in the section. NGOs, gurudwaras, individuals and organisations chipped in to provide food and necessities. I took a train journey with the Chief Minister to assess the scale required to assist people during such times. I must admit that the Railways gave it all to assist these individuals while keeping their dignity intact,” he told this newsletter.
On June 30, 2022, when the 05616 Silchar-Haflong Passenger Train chugged its way to the Haflong Railway Station, there were cheers all around. People were rubbing their eyes and pinching themselves to realise that this was a reality. The most optimistic of persons around had not given the NF Railways and its construction team the slightest of odds that things will be restored within six months. “By July 13th, the Lumding-Guwahati Passenger Train was well and truly in service while by the last week of July, all major routes were being served by the Railways in the section,” Kumar informed Asom Barta on train services resuming operations in the Section.
“We spent nearly ₹ 150 cr and used the most modern equipment and technology to restore connectivity while ensuring safety and respecting the local geography. Yes, speed was of essence. In fact, we achieved the target that we had set in just 42 days. We deployed all contractors at our disposal to achieve this feat,” Gupta informed this reporter.
Diganta Saikia, a housekeeping staff in the much-talked about Vistado Train, whom this writer met during his journey to Haflong summed it up. “I never saw something like this in my life: Neither the scale of damage, nor the intensity and speed with which things became normal again.