Maitree Express: The friendship train between India and Bangladesh

Maitree Express: The friendship train between India and Bangladesh

Maitree Express will allow passengers to complete immigration and customs at point of departure.

By reinstating two railway routes from the British colonial era, India and Bangladesh are hoping for increased friendship and peace between its citizens. The Maitree Express, which started operations nine years ago, is slowly winning the hearts and minds of travelers by providing affordable and regular transport between the two countries.

How political divisions affected the railway
Bengal is a large geopolitical area in the Indian sub-continent; with more than 250 million Bengalis, it is one of the densely populated regions of the world, united by language and culture, but divided by religion. The first blow was the partition of Bengal in 1905, announced by the British colonial rulers, which separated the largely Muslim eastern areas from the largely Hindu western areas. Bengal was reunited in 1911, but Hindus and Muslims soon began to demand the creation of two independent states inside Bengal.

In 1947, Bengal received its fatal blow: it was divided in two countries, India and Pakistan, solely on religious grounds, as part of the Partition of India. West Bengal remained under India and East Bengal became East Pakistan, which was liberated from Pakistan in 1971 and became Bangladesh.

Before the partition of India in 1947, regular passenger services used to connect Kolkata (Calcutta) to cities like Khulna and Jessore in East Bengal, as part of the Eastern Bengal Railway. After the partition, the railway suffered greatly — visa restrictions were introduced, and the lack of border stations with proper customs and immigration facilities led to the shutdown of services. The remaining train services between India and Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) were suspended during the 1965 India-Pakistan War. Expensive air travel and limited bus services were the only means of transport between the two Bengals ever since.

A gesture of friendship
After four decades, the Maitree Express I was launched on April 14, 2008, following years of negotiation between India and Bangladesh. Maitree means Friendship, denoting the significance of this train service to the foreign relations between both countries.

The service started running twice a week, with a travel time of 13 hours, including two stops at the Gede and Darshana border stations for immigration and customs formalities. Now, the train operates with air conditioned coaches six times a week from both sides, with a travel time of 11-12 hours for about 450 kms of tracks. (This Facebook page gives updates of the train service.)

The price of the AC First Class ticket from Dhaka-Kolkata (or Kolkata-Dhaka) is about US $27 and the AC Chair Coach is approximately US $17 (inclusive of Value Added Tax and other taxes). This is much cheaper than a typical economy class airfare between these two cities, which costs around US $100 for a one-hour flight.

To meet the growing demand, a second train (the Maitree Express II) was inaugurated in April 2017, connecting Kolkata with the Bangladeshi city of Khulna, thereby reinstating the historical Barisal Express route. The 176 km-long train journey includes 96 km on the Bangladesh side.

“Pleasing chills of joy”

Because the Maitree Express unites people from the two Bengals, a lot of emotions are involved. Affordable transportation has proven it has the power to unite people from both countries, and give them the opportunity to visit their ancestral lands and meet friends and family on the other side of the border. On Facebook, Bangladeshi journalist Fazlul Bari shared one such experience in a train station in West Bengal, describing a woman who migrated from Bangladesh when she was in her teens.

The Maitree Express will soon be inaugurating a non-stop service — passengers will be allowed to complete immigration and customs services at their point of departure, allowing for a comfortable and hassle-free journey, and reducing travel time from 12 hours to six or seven.
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