Cross-border rail link is bringing India-Bangladesh closer

Last Updated on March 29, 2024 3:52 am

Md Khayrul Bashar, Senior Reporter:

Cross-border rail connectivity between neighboring India and Bangladesh is playing an important role in expanding trade, transit, tourism and people-to-people contact between the two countries. There are 10 cross-border rail routes between the two South Asian neighbors. Of these, six routes have been launched. The routes are: Benapole-Petrapole, Gede-Darshana, Chilahati-Haldibari, Agartala-Akhaura, Rohanpur-Singbad and Birol-Radhikapur. The remaining four are: Shahbazpur-Mahisasan, Belonia-Feni, Changrabandha-Burimari and Mughalhat-Gitaldah will be introduced in phases.

Currently there are three passenger trains running between India and Bangladesh. Maitri Express was launched in 2008 from Kolkata via Gede-Darshana cross-border in Dhaka. According to the report, in the 36th Inter-Governmental Railway Meeting held in September 2023, Bangladesh Railways (BR) requested Indian Railways (IR) to initiate. Steps to make Maitri Express more popular and to run trains even at night for the convenience of passengers. India has agreed to examine the proposal in consultation with relevant agencies. In 2017, a weekly Bandhan Express between Kolkata and Khulna via the Petrapol-Benapole cross-border point was launched. The weekly Mithali Express was launched in 2022 on Haldibari-Chilahati route from New Jalpaiguri via Dhaka.

The frequency of two passenger trains i.e. Maitri Express and Bandhan Express have been increased from four days a week to five days and once a week to twice a week from February 2020 to enhance the relations between the people of the two neighboring countries.

Reports say that bilateral talks are underway to launch a fourth passenger train between Kolkata and Dhaka. The recent inauguration of the landmark Padma Rail Bridge has highlighted the prospect of greater rail connectivity between the two countries. In a recent intergovernmental railway meeting, both sides discussed the possibility of increasing connectivity between Shahbazpur-Mahisasan, Feni-Belonia and Burimari-Charbandha cross-border rail links by re-opening them.

Apart from the recently opened Agartala-Akhaura rail link, passenger and goods trains operated on nine cross-border rail routes during British colonial rule. Most of them were closed after the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 and a few were closed during and after the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. Maitri Express, the most used cross-border passenger service, has been running on the Gede-Darshana route since April 14, 2008. This rail link is part of the Trans-Asian Railway (TAR). In 2002, freight trains were restarted on the Petrapol-Benapol cross-border rail link. Subsequently, a passenger train called Bandhan Express was launched on 16 November 2017 to cater to the needs of people in both India and Bangladesh. This railway line will eventually connect with TAR.

The 10.72 km Chilahati-Haldibari cross-border rail link was upgraded to broad-gauge and inaugurated by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina through video conference on December 17, 2020. Freight trains started running on this route on August 1, 2021. Later on June 1, 2022, a passenger train named Mithali Express was launched on this route from New Jalpaiguri to Dhaka. This rail link created an alternative to the Siliguri Corridor which created economic opportunities and more people-to-people interaction between India and Bangladesh.

The Chilahati-Haldibari railway line built during British rule was closed after the Indo-Pakistani war of 1965. The decision to revive the rail route was taken at the 2015 India-Bangladesh Intergovernmental Railway Meeting. Following that decision, the Indian government took up a Rs 152 crore railway project in 2018. This cross-border railway has reduced the distance between India and Bangladesh by 150 km. The Chilahati-Haldibari rail link will facilitate the transportation of goods from Bangladesh to North Eastern states, Nepal and Bhutan through Mongla port.

In order to further enhance trade, transit and communication, the Bangladesh government sought rail connectivity with Bhutan through the Chilahati-Haldibari route. During the King of Bhutan’s visit to India in November 2023, New Delhi and Thimphu jointly decided to designate the Chilahati-Haldibari rail link as an additional route for Bhutan’s trade with Bangladesh. To increase sub-regional connectivity, this railway can be extended to Hasimara and further to Jaigaon on the Bhutanese border.

A 10 km railway from Sigabad in West Bengal connects the northern border town of Rohanpur with Bangladesh. Regular freight trains are running on this line since 1990. This cross-border rail link will also be connected to the TAR. The 11 km railway line from Birol in Bangladesh to Radhikapur in India was used for transit operations with Nepal until 2005.

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