The new direct train service – Bandhan Express – between Khulna in Bangladesh and Kolkata in India will not only ease communication between the two neighbouring countries, but further cement bilateral ties.
The newly launched train service will re-establish the old rail link between Khulna in the southwest region of Bangladesh and Kolkata, the heart of the Indian state of West Bengal, which was snapped in the 1950s, a few years after the partition.
After 52 years, the people of India and Bangladesh can now buy train tickets to travel to the other side of the border. The train services were suspended during 1965 India-Pakistan war. In 1965, the Barisal Express connecting Kolkata to Khulna was stopped because of the India-Pakistan war. The Bandhan Express is the first train connecting Kolkata and Khulna after that. The train is the second between the two countries.
The two sides of erstwhile united Bengal were connected through train service before the partition of India in 1947. Train service was then available from Sealdah to Khulna and Jessore.
The train service was suspended during the 1965 India-Pakistan war. Bangladesh was then part of Pakistan as East Pakistan. The War of Liberation in 1971 gave birth to Bangladesh. The train service started between India and Bangladesh in 2008 when Maitree Express was launched. The tri-weekly train has been a success since its launch, seeing 90 per cent occupancy. The train has a capacity of 456 passengers.
Bus services are already operational on KolkataDhaka-Agartala and Kolkata-Dhaka routes. The Kolkata-Dhaka route was launched in 1999. The Kolkata-Dhaka-Agartala route was opened in 2015.
The two neighbouring countries already have a cross-border train service named Maitree Express, connecting Dhaka and Kolkata.
Following the success and popularity of Maitree Express, which was launched on April 14, 2008, the two governments decided to reconnect Khulna and Kolkata via a direct rail link.
The fully air-conditioned weekly passenger train service ‘Bandhan Express’ will run every Thursday from both Kolkata and Khulna.
The new passenger train service was flagged off through video conference by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
They also inaugurated railway bridges over rivers Meghna and Titas on the main Chittagong to Dhaka trunk rail line in Bangladesh.
Speaking on the occasion, Modi said the ties of friendship between India and Bangladesh have further strengthened through these projects.
“The names of the two train services connecting the two countries — Maitree (friendship) and Bandhan (bonding) are similar to our shared vision,” he said.
Commenting on the inauguration of two rail bridges in Bangladesh at a cost of around USD 100 million, he said the bridges will be very helpful in strengthening Bangladesh’s rail connectivity. “It is a matter of pride for India to be a trusted partner in Bangladesh’s development,” Modi said.
India has extended soft loans worth USD 8 billion to Bangladesh for different development projects, which included the two bridges that were inaugurated.
On her part, Hasina said, “This train service is a dream come true for people on both sides of the border.” The Bangladesh Prime Minister said that pre-1965 railway lines between the two countries will be revived. “Some have already started and others will,” she said. It is not only bonding through railways but it is a bonding of people of the two countries, she noted.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee described the launch as a remarkable day for India and Bangladesh.
End-to-end immigration and customs facilities were also inaugurated at Kolkata station for passengers of Kolkata-Dhaka Maitree Express and the newly-introduced Kolkata-Khulna Bandhan Express.
The new train will bring down travel time for passengers by nearly three hours, apart from ensuring a hassle-free journey. The rail travel distance between Kolkata station and southwestern industrial city of Khulna, which is the third largest town in Bangladesh, is 172 km, of which 77 km are in India and 95 km are in the neighbouring country.
The journey will have two intermediate stations – Petrapole, with a stoppage time of 10 minutes, and Benepole, with a stoppage time of 15 minutes.
The word Bandhan means ‘bond’ in English and the new train is a bid to ease communication between the two neighbouring countries and bond them better.
Experts say that trade, business and cultural relations will get further strengthened by better connectivity between the two neighbours.
The Maitree Express between Dhaka and Kolkata, which has been running since 2008, is popular. It runs six days a week from each side, covering a distance of 375 kilometers in 11 hours. There are two stops for immigration checking; one is Gede in India and the other is Dorshona in Bangladesh.
There is also a proposal from Bangladesh side to launch a train to connect Rajshahi in Bangladesh and Kolkata, according to Bangladesh railway minister Mujibal Haque. Both the countries are also exploring the possibility of launching a container train service between Dhaka and Kolkata.
Feasibility might be assessed soon for initiating the full-fledged container train service on commercial basis. Trade and commerce between the two countries will be boosted if container train service is launched successfully.
Transport of import and export goods through container train is comparatively cheaper than that of highways and waterways. India-Bangladesh trade worth $6.6 billion is mostly carried out through land route.
Export and import of goods through roadways involves high cost and lengthy procedures. It is a common phenomenon that many of goods-laden trucks with import and export goods have to wait for a long time at land ports Benapole (in Bangladesh) and Petrapole (in India) for completing customs and port procedures. On the other hand, bilateral transport cost can be reduced at least by 30 per cent if goods are transported through railway containers.
Two new railway lines are being contemplated, largely to connect Tripura and Bangladesh. Work on the Agartala-Akhaura rail link started in September while a second line from Belonia to Feni will connect with the Chittagong port, opening up a new route for people and goods to move to the northeast. These train lines are also part of the trans-Asian railway network.
While Nepal, with its largest open border with India, may be said to have the greatest access to India, India and Bangladesh have built arguably the most number of connectivity projects, almost unprecedented in the South Asian region, generally regarded as one of the least.