Maitree Express-II chugged across India, Bangladesh border amid cheers, applause

India-Bangladesh ties: Indian railways to restore Kolkata –Khulna passenger train service

PETRAPOLE, Sealdah Division: Nine years after the inauguration of the Maitree (friendship) Express passenger train service between Kolkata and Dhaka, the first Khulna-Kolkata train chugged in to the Petrapole Railway station On the India-Bangladesh border on Saturday.

This will be the second passenger service between the two countries. The first such service ‘Maitree Express’ was flagged off between Kolkata and Dhaka Cantonment stations in April 2008. After the passage of nine years, there is growing demand for more railway connections between Indian and Bangladesh.

Repeatedly sounding its hooter, the five-coach diesel-hauled Maitree Express-II stopped at the railway station on the Indian side of the border at about 1.40 pm to loud cheers and applause. On a trial run, it carried a 43-member Bangladesh delegation, who were warmly greeted and received with bouquets and garlands by Indian Railway officials.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his visiting Bangladesh counterpart, Sheikh Hasina, inaugurated the trial run through a video link from New Delhi.

Resplendent in green and saffron border on white base, the Maitree Express II set off from Khulna at 8.15 a.m. and entered India through Benapole from the Bangladesh side.

The 176-km journey includes 96 km on the Bangladesh side. Railway officials said the regular passenger train services are expected to begin from July.

“The services are expected to kick off from July this year from Kolkata to Khulna through Petrapole- Benapole (on the Bangladesh side). The fare and the frequency of the services are yet to be decided,” said Basudev Panda, Divisional Railway Manager, Sealdah, Eastern Railway.

On Saturday S N Agrawal, General Manager, Eastern & South Eastern Railways, Satish Kumar, Addl. General Manager, Eastern Railway, Basudev Panda, Divisional Railway Manager, Sealdah, Eastern Railway will be present at Petrapole (on the Indian side) to receive senior railway officials from Bangladesh.

Interestingly, much before an international border came up and political realignments changed the landscape of the two Bengals, regular passenger services connected Sealdah to Khulna and Jessore through the Petrapole-Benapole route.

Bangladesh Railway’s Chief Mechanical Engineer (West) Md. Iftikar Hossain said: “The train will have the air-conditioned and non air-conditioned compartments along with medical facilities. The fare will be at par with the fares of Maitree I. The number of air-conditioned and non ac and non air-conditioned compartments will depend on the number of passengers.”

“The Maitree I which runs twice a week has about 450 seats. We see on an average 80 per cent of seats are always booked,” Panda said.

Panda said the two countries would initiateAthe process of establishing immigration and customs facilities at the terminal destinations so that no change-over is required in between.

“The new passenger service will give a momemtum to collaboration between the two countries. People from the southern part of Bangladesh will benefit from the new service,” said Syed Salma Jafreen, Deputy Secretary, Bangladesh Ministry of Home Affairs.

Regular passenger services connected Sealdah to Khulna and Jessore through the route, much before the partition of India in 1947.

Passenger train services between the two countries were suspended after the 1965 war between India and Pakistan, when the territory now known as Bangladesh comprised the Pakistan’s eastern province.

East Pakistan later became independent Bangladesh in 1971.

Nearly 30 years after Bangladesh’s independence, the Indo-Bangla Petrapole-Benapole rail corridor was re-opened in January 2001 for goods traffic.

According to officials, these trains are now running on a regular basis.

On April 14, 2008, the passenger train service between Dhaka and Kolkata — the Maitree Express — was launched.