India, Bangladesh to restore defunct rail routes, Nepal & Bhutan to be connected too

India, Bangladesh to restore defunct rail routes, Nepal & Bhutan to be connected too

India and Bangladesh are set to reopen the defunct trans-border rail routes to India which would also link the country with Nepal and Bhutan — in what would be a major boost to cross-border trade and tourism — coinciding with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s four-day visit here from Friday.

The formal announcement for reopening the railway routes, which snapped after the 1965 Indo-Pak war (Bangladesh was then East Pakistan), is likely to be made following the Hasina-Modi dialogue here on Saturday.

The routes connecting Bangladesh with Nepal and Bhutan are also part of the proposed Trans-Asian Railway network. Bangladesh government officials told the daily from Dhaka that if the old rail connectivity can be restored and reopened, including the sealed rail links, it will boost subregional trade and tourism. The rail links that will be restored pass through the crossing points on the Indo-Bangla border — Chilahati to Haldibari, Biral to Radhikapur, Benapole to Petrapole, Rohanpur to Singhabad, Shahbazpur to Mahisasan, and Burimari to Changrabandha.

Among these the Benapole-Petrapole and Biral-Radhikapur corridors will be inaugurated during Hasina’s visit, according to officials quoted above. Among the rest of the rail links, repair work of the Chilahati-Haldibari link is already underway and is slated for completion by 2020. This corridor will connect Chilahati station in Nilphamari with Haldibari station in Cooch Behar, West Bengal, allowing passenger and cargo trains to go to the hill station of Darjeeling via Siliguri.

Officials said that the rail links will connect Nepal and Bhutan to the ports of Bangladesh via West Bengal. Currently, one cross border train links Kolkata with Dhaka. The “Maitree Express” was relaunched in 2008 after a 43-year hiatus and now runs three times a week in each direction through the Darsana-Gede interchange point.

Most of the old rail corridors were severed during the 1965 war. The rest were abandoned in the past two decades when India converted all of its metre-gauge tracks to broad-gauge tracks. The two governments have already run a trial passenger train service between Khulna and Kolkata via the Benapole-Petrapole corridor.

Connectivity is a key pillar of cooperation in the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) and BIMSTEC sub-regional initiatives being pushed by India in the absence of any tangle progress in SAARC due to Pakistan’s intransigence against approving pan South Asian Motor Vehicles and Railways Agreements.


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