Long waits for customs job discouraging passengers | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 17, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, May 17, 2008

Dhaka-Kolkata Train Service

Long waits for customs job discouraging passengers

These file photos show Maitree Express having a locomotive change at Darshana Railway Station and, right, passengers inside the train get weary of the delay of over two hours there. The number of Dhaka-Kolkata train passengers is decreasing day by day due to lengthy immigration checks.Photo: File Photo

Launched amid much enthusiasm and fanfare over a month ago, Dhaka-Kolkata passenger train service now sees not even one third of seat capacity of the carriages used.
Passengers attribute poor show of the Maitree Express service to long stops at the border stations--Darshana in Bangladesh and Gede in India--for immigration and customs formalities, twice-a-week only (Saturday-Sunday) schedule and hassles in ticket purchase in Kolkata.
Sources said necessary efforts to popularise the train service are yet to be made by the ministries concerned in both the countries, their business communities and cultural and tourism organisations, contributing to its present state.
Bangladesh officials however said the two countries have already worked out solutions to passenger sufferings and are making passenger-friendly schedule for the train service.
“We hope to see a rise in the number of passengers with some steps taken shortly," ATKM Ismail, additional secretary of communications ministry, told The Daily Star yesterday.
Train service between Bangladesh and India, which was discontinued following the India-Pakistan war in 1965, resumed on April 14 after 43 years with two Maitree Express trains reaching Dhaka and Kolkata in the evening that day.
The train from Dhaka has 418 seats but the highest number of passengers it had so far was 137 on May 11 (excepting the inaugural run to Kolkata with 375 passengers), said Nripendra Chandra, a stationmaster at Kamalapur railway station.
Sources said 50 passengers went to Kolkata on April 16, 59 on April 19, 74 on April 20, 78 on April 26, 106 on April 27, 135 on May 3 and 128 on May 10. Ninety-eight tickets for today's trip were sold till noon yesterday.
Railway officials said the number of passengers in the train bound for Kolkata is increasing but that in the Dhaka-bound train, which has 366 seats, remains insignificant.
After 65 passengers travelled from Kolkata in the inaugural run, the Dhaka-bound train carried 24 passengers on April 19 and eight the next day. On April 26 and 27, the passenger count was 71 and 49, according to a report from the Indian city.
Most passengers of Maitree Express are irked by the five-hour wait for immigration and customs clearance at the border stations of Darshana and Gede for the 538km journey--418km in Bangladesh and 120km in India.
Bangladesh officials have already proposed to their Indian counterparts to slash the time by at least two hours--one hour on each side--which would reduce the journey time to 11 hours from 13 hours.
Dhaka has proposed that the train from Dhaka, which now leaves at 8:30am, should start at 7:30am.And the train from Kolkata that now leaves at 7:10am (local time) should start 50 minutes later.
The two trains, one each from Dhaka and Kolkata, now leave for their destinations on Saturday and return the next day. So, passengers reaching Kolkata from Dhaka for various businesses there have to wait for the next week to catch the train back to Bangladesh or take a flight or come by bus. The same is the case for train passengers reaching Dhaka from Kolkata.
“To address this problem, we've proposed that the train from Bangladesh should leave for Kolkata on Saturday and return on Sunday while the train from India should leave for Dhaka on Tuesday and get back on Wednesday,” Ismail said.
The Indian authorities have already agreed to the proposals in principle.
“Before implementing the new schedule, they (Indian side) would need some time to reschedule the timetable of other trains that run on the route of Maitree Express between Gede and Chitpur,” he said referring to his talks with Indian officials.
For Kolkata-bound passengers, Dhaka Cantonment station is for boarding and customs checking and Darshana for immigration checking under the present arrangement. Bangladesh authorities will soon start immigration checking too at the Cantonment station.
The Indian authorities are yet to arrange any ticket booking counters at Chitpur station, and passengers have to go to Eastern Railway headquarters at Fairly Place for it.
Dhaka has asked Indian railway authorities for at least another counter in Kolkata, said sources.
Talking to this correspondent, several officials noted that solving these problems would not attract passengers unless there are specific efforts to popularise the train service.
Sources mentioned that the Indian authorities had expressed interest to observe Rabindranath Tagore's birth anniversary on Baishakh 25 (May 8) on board the Maitree Express to popularise the train service. But the cultural affairs ministry of Bangladesh did not respond.
“The ministries concerned, business communities, chambers, and cultural, religious, sports and tourism organisations of the two countries must come up with specific initiatives to popularise Maitree Express service,” a communications ministry official said.

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