Railways – Train service between India and Bangladesh

The Maitree Express or Moitri Express (Bengaliমৈত্রী এক্সপ্রেসMoitri EkspresHindiमैत्री एक्सप्रेस) orDhaka-Kolkata Express is an International passenger train serving therailway connecting the Bangladeshicapital of Dhaka and the Indian stateWest Bengal‘s capital Kolkata. This is the only railway link between the cities of the two nations and has been revived after being closed for 43 years.[1] The name Maitree Express means theFriendship Express, denoting the significance of the train service to the foreign relations between India and Bangladesh.[2] The inauguration of the train service was held on the occasion of the Bengali New Year (পহেলা বৈশাখPôhela Boishakh) April 14, 2008.[3]

Background

Kolkata Station, India

The Partition of India in 1947 disruptedrail links in the province of Bengal, which was divided into the Indian state of West Bengal (পশ্চিমবঙ্গ) and the Pakistani province of East Bengal (later renamedEast Pakistan in 1956). During Britishrule over the undivided land, regular over-night trains connected Kolkata,GoalandaDhaka and Narayanganj. In addition pre-partition, Darjeeling Mailconnecting Kolkata (Sealdah Station) with Siliguri ran through what became East Pakistan via GedeDarshana andChilahatiHaldibari. Three train services from Sealdah—East Bengal Mail toParbatipur Junction via GedeDarshana,East Bengal Express to Goalundo Ghat viaGedeDarshana, and the Barisal Expressto Khulna via BenapolePetrapole—continued operation between the two countries until 1965, when the outbreak of the Indo-Pakistani Conflict of 1965 led to the closure of all passenger trainlinks.[1] The Bangladesh war of Independence 1971 resulted in theindependence of East Pakistan as the nation-state of Bangladesh. The Maitree Express follows the same route as the first two trains above via GedeDarshana.

Revival

In 2001, the two national governmentsagreed upon the railway train scheme during bilateral talks. The train service concept got a major boost during the visit of the current President of India and then Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee to Dhaka in February, 2007. On July 8, 2007 the first train ran fromKolkata to Dhaka in a test run, carrying Indian government officials who were to meet their Bangladeshi counterparts to finalise train schedules.[4] In response toIndian security demands, a “box-fencing” system was to be erected on either side on the no-man’s land between the two countries.[5]

Kolkata Station, where the train departs.

2008 inauguration

On April 14, 2008, on the occasion of theBengali New Year, the train was re-launched with fanfare; the flag-off ceremony for the first train leavingKolkata from the Kolkata railway stationin Chitpur was attended by dignitaries such as the Indian Railway Minister Lalu Prasad YadavInformation and Broadcasting Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, the Governor of West BengalGopalkrishna Gandhi and BangladeshHigh Commissioner to India Liquat Ali Chowdhury. The Indian Foreign MinisterPranab Mukherjee officially flagged-off the inaugural train from Kolkata, bound for Dhaka.[1][5] Another train departed at the same time carrying passengers fromDhaka to Kolkata. But the 360-seater Calcutta-Dhaka Friendship Express on its inaugural run was carrying barely 65 passengers, including journalists and politicians. Indian Railways officials state that the train service was launched hurriedly, and that when information would spread there would be a greater response and passenger numbers.[2] An official statement from the IndianMinistry of External Affairs said, “The agreement will strengthen bilateral relations and provide an alternative mode of passenger transport.”[5]

Protests and bombing plot

The inauguration of the train service has evoked mixed public responses.[2] Thousands of people gathered along the train route fromKolkata up to the border crossing point in Gede to cheer the inaugural train. However, a group representing Hindurefugees from Bangladesh, the Nikhil Banga Nagarik Sangha (All Bengal Citizens Committee) protested the launching of the train service, citingpersecution of Hindus in Bangladesh, possible terrorist infiltration into India and demanding the rehabilitation of Bangladeshi Hindu refugees.[6][7] Police reports stated that 87 people (including 11 women) had been arrested for blocking the train by squatting on the tracks and refusing to move.[2][6][7]Police blamed the group for planting three bombs, which were defused, on the route on April 13, a day before the launch.[2][7]

Route

Maitree Express
0 km Kolkata (কলকাতা)
114 km Gede (গেদে)
India andBangladeshBorder
130 km Darshana (দর্শনা)
375 km Dhaka Cantt. (ঢাকা ক্যান্টনমেন্ট)

The Maitree Express is the only train which runs between Kolkata and Dhaka. It runs six days a week from each side. The train travels around 375 kilometers to reach Dhaka from Kolkata. There are two stoppages for immigration checking; one is Gede (Indian side) and the other is Darshana (Bangladesh side). It takes around 10–11 hours to cover the entire stretch. Since the Bangladesh side is non-electrified, the entire stretch is covered by broad-gauge diesel locomotives. There is a change of crew and locos at Darshana in Bangladesh. There are two major river crossings–theHardinge Bridge over the lower Gangesand the Jamuna Multipurpose Bridgeover the Jamuna River, both inBangladesh.

Train Schedule

More information: DAY, FROM …

The Indian train consists of Indian locos and coaches. The Bangladesh train consists of Indonesian-sourced coaches and Indian-sourced locos.

The train service is reliable and punctual, does not involve a lengthy ferry crossing and is cheaper than the Kolkata-Dhaka bus services. The terminal points areDhaka Cantonment and Kolkata Stations respectively. Neither are junctions nor true terminal stations, as it is possible to continue by local train to Dhaka’s main station Kamalapur from Dhaka Cantonment. From Kolkata, the nearest metro station is Shyambazar–a distance of 1.4 km.

Diplomacy

The development of the Kolkata-Dhaka train service is akin to that of theSamjhauta Express (also meaning “Friendship” or “Accord” Express), which connects the Indian capital Delhi toLahore in Pakistan. Both train services were opened to revive rail links between the countries that were disrupted by the partition of India in 1947, and both have been used as symbols of goodwill and cooperation between India and Bangladesh in the case of the Maitree Express, and India and Pakistan in the case of the Samjhauta Express.

Challenges

Earlier the Maitree Express was said to be running at 50% occupancy. With increase in runs to six days per week, three times each direction this service has gained in popularity. Other challenges remain-terminal stations in both Kolkata & Dhaka being on the city outskirts. Reducing or improving the process of customs and immigration processing, which currently involves taking all luggage off the train and then reboarding after processing, twice in each journey, would possibly make the service more attractive. Better publicity in local media at both terminal cities also could help raise patronage leading to the train becoming a daily service.

Booking

Online booking through the IRCTCwebsite is not available. Tickets are only available in local currency at the booking counters mentioned below. Return tickets are not available. While applying for a visa it is essential to specify the port of entry as “By rail-Gede” (for an Indian visa) or “By rail-Darshana”(for a Bangladeshi visa). Tickets will be issued only after issue of the visa, and passports must be shown while booking. In case all passengers are not present, an authorisation is required while booking tickets.

Tickets are available in Dhaka from the Kamalapur Main Reservation Counter only. In Kolkata tickets may be purchased from the International Ticket Booking Counter at Fairlie Place, Dalhousie Square, and also at the Kolkata station. NB: The Kolkata station counter is open only on the days of arrival of train from Dhaka, i.e. Monday,Wednesday & Friday from 1800–2200 hours. The Fairlie Place counter is open on all days from 0800–2000 hours. Recess: 1100-1130 & 1630-1700 & on Sundays 1000-1400.

The complete rail links between India & Bangladesh (BD) are as follows:

Western Frontier:

1. Darsana (BD)–Gede (India): Maitreeand freight trains

2. Benapole (BD)–Petrapole (India): Freight only

3. Rohanpur (BD)–Singhabad (India): Freight

4. Birol (BD)–Radhikapur (India): Previously freight, currently discontinued after India converted tobroad gauge from meter gauge.

Northern Frontier:

5. Chilahati (BD)–Haldibari (India): The rail tracks have been removed on BD side.

6. Burimari (BD)–Changrabandha(India): Also discontinued.

Eastern Frontier:

7. Shahbazpur (BD)–Mahishasan(India): A meter gauge line existed but was discontinued.

8. Akhaura (BD)–Agartala (India): A new line being is developed by IRCON[clarification needed], cost to be borne by India.

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