Petrapole (West Bengal), April 8 (IANS) Nine years after the inauguration of the Maitree (friendship) Express passenger train service between Kolkata and Dhaka, the first Khulna-Kolkata train chugged into the Petrapole Railway station on the India-Bangladesh border on Saturday.
Repeatedly sounding its hooter, the seven-coach diesel-hauled Maitree Express-II stopped at the railway station on the Indian side of the border around 1.40 p.m. 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 a 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.
Bangladesh Railway’s Chief Mechanical Engineer (West) Md. Iftikar Hossain said: “The train will have 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 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 initiate the process of establishing immigration and customs facilities at the terminal destinations so that no changeover is required in between.
For the comfort of passengers the Indian railways planned to make Maitree I a fully air conditioned train, said S.N. Agrawal, General Manager, Eastern and South Eastern Railways.
“It is proposed to eliminate the customs and immigration formalities which take place at Gede at the Indo-Bangla border. Going forward, these formalities will be taken to Kolkata so that the train can run to Dhaka without any halts. This service will be taking place from next August,” he said.
“The new passenger service will give a momentum 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 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.
This is published unedited from the IANS feed.