Rail transit for India thru’ Bangladesh: Railways of 2 countries to work on one route
After a proposal from Indian Railways (IR), Dhaka and New Delhi have agreed to work out the details of the possibility of India using rail transit through Bangladesh.
Under the plan, Indian trains will run between Sealdah and Haldibari of West Bengal through Bangladesh. In that case, trains will enter Bangladesh through Gede-Darshana (Chuadanga) border and exit through Chilahati (Nilphamari)-Haldibari border to reach Siliguri.
At the moment, India has road transit facilities through Bangladesh. If approved by the two governments, the proposed route will be the first rail transit facility between the two nations after more than half a century.
Before India-Pakistan partition in 1947, there were eight railway interchanges between the two countries. Only five of them -- Benapole-Petropole, Darshana-Gede, Rohanpur-Singabadh, Biral-Radhikarpur, and Chilahati-Haldibari -- are now operational.
The IR placed the proposal at a meeting with Bangladesh Railway (BR) in April.
Meeting documents seen by The Daily Star show the infrastructure of the route from Gede-Darshana-Ishwardi-Abdullpur-Parbatipur-Chilahati-Haldibari is "fully ready" for the opening of the route.
The IR delegation also sought to increase the number of trains from India through various points for freight transit from one carrier to another.
At the meeting, BR officials sought a new overnight train service from Dhaka to Kolkata via Darshana. Dhaka will place a formal proposal in this regard soon, the document reads.
Apart from the freight trains, two passenger trains are being operated between India and Bangladesh for several years.
Currently, the Maitree Express between Dhaka and Kolkata uses the Gede-Darshana interchange. Bandhan Express operates between Khulna and Kolkata.
Rail communication between the two countries via Chilahati-Haldibari route resumed in December 2020, after a 55-year hiatus. Mitali Express, a third passenger train, resumes operation today.
Resumption of train operation on the Chilahati-Haldibari route has created scope for the IR to revive the old Siliguri-Sealdah route via Bangladesh.
The proposed transit facility will reduce the travel time by nearly three hours. At the moment Indian trains need to travel 573km to reach Siliguri from Sealdah in Kolkata. It will come down to just 200kms if it can travel through the new route.
Before 1965, trains leaving Siliguri would pass through Haldibari and enter Chilahati in the erstwhile East Pakistan en route to Kolkata, according to Times of India.
Following the Indo-Pak war in 1965, this line was permanently shut down.
An IR delegation led by Manoj Singh, executive director (traffic transportation) of Indian Railway Board, visited Bangladesh in April as part of groundwork for Bangladesh Railways Minister Nurul Islam Sujan's Indian trip.
The minister left for India on Saturday and is expected to return home on Friday.
The Indian team held a high-level meeting with BR delegations led by Quamrul Ahsan, additional director general (infrastructure), at the Rail Bhaban in Dhaka on April 21.
"It was discussed that transit of IR trains through Bangladesh could be win-win for BR, IR and people and trade of the two countries," reads the meeting document.
"Both sides agreed to work out the finer details and obtain necessary approvals of relevant authorities. This is expected to help reduce congestion for IR and provide apportioned earnings to BR," reads the document.
"Yes. They [Indian Railways] have placed a proposal. However, no final decision was taken in this regard. This is a major issue and is needed to be discussed at policy level," a participant of the meeting told The Daily Star.
Quamrul Ahsan declined to comment on the proposal.
BR Director General Dhirendra Nath Mazumder did not respond to The Daily Star's request for comments.
The Indian proposal came at a time when an Indian newspaper reported that its central government is mulling a second rail route that would connect its north-eastern state of Meghalaya with the rest of the country via Bangladesh.
Recently, the Katihar division of Northeast Frontier Railway sent a proposal to the Railway Board, seeking approval of the project, The Telegraph Online reported on May 5, citing IR sources.
The proposal says the rail route will enter Bangladesh from Hilli and move through places like Ghoraghat, Palashbari and Gaibandha in northern stretches of Bangladesh, and connect Mahendraganj of Tura, reads the news.
The Indian side also raised the issue of increasing the number of trains from India at various interchange points by at least 10 to 15 trains per point per month.
BR side said some increase is being planned in the near future at some specific points.
The IR side expressed interest in some projects including conversion of Kaunia-Lalmonirhat section into broad gauge from meter gauge.
The BR expressed interest in restoring the Burimari-Chengrabandhalink and building the Panchagarh-Banglabandha-Rangapani (India) link.