Bangladesh Railway will start discussion with Indian Railways soon to assess whether two more passenger train routes can be opened between the countries, Railways Minister Nurul Islam Sujan said.
One route would be Rajshahi-Kolkata via Rohonpur (Chapainawabganj) -Singabad (Malda) border and another Dhaka-Siliguri through Chilahati (Nilphamari)-Haldibari (Cooch Behar) border, he said.
The minister was addressing a press conference at Rail Bhaban organised to announce that the BR was going to increase the number of trips of Maitree and Bandhan express trains running between Bangladesh and India from next week.
On the Dhaka-Kolkata route, Maitree Express will run five days a week instead of four days from February 11 and Bandhan Express two days instead of one day on the Khulna-Kolkata route from February 16, he said.
The minister added that the prime minister is expected to lay the foundation stone for the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Railway Bridge over the Jamuna river on March 14 as all necessary formalities had already been completed.
Sujan said Rajshahi City Corporation mayor and several lawmakers from the district have long been demanding passenger train service between Rajshahi and Kolkata. “We have also talked to the Indian side.”
In July 2017, Fazle Hossain Badsha, a Workers Party lawmaker from Rajshahi-2, sent a proposal to the Indian government through the office of Assistant High Commissioner of India in Rajshahi.
In a meeting with the railways minister in October last year, Riva Ganguly Das, Indian high commissioner to Bangladesh, raised the issue, a railway official said.
The meeting also decided to carry out a feasibility study on the route, he added.
Sujan said the construction work of seven km broad gauge line between Chilahati and Chilahati border is expected to be done by June this year. A new passenger train route can be opened from Dhaka to Siliguri through Chilahati-Haldibari border, he said.
“We have expressed our interest in this regard and the Indian high commissioner also did the same in a meeting recently.
“We are considering to start discussion soon about whether Bangladesh-India connectivity can be established through these two passenger train routes,” he opined.
Railways Ministry Senior Secretary Mofazzel Hossain told The Daily Star that feasibility and traffic demand studies would be carried out if the two countries agreed to operate passenger trains on the routes.
Currently, Maitree Express operates on Saturdays, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. The train service will also be available on Tuesdays from February 11, Sujan said.
On the other hand, Bandhan Express will operate on Sundays, in addition to Thursdays from February 16, he said.
In a meeting between Sujan and Indian Railway Minister Piyush Goyal on August 6 last year, the ministers agreed to increase the number of trips of the trains, railway sources said.
As per the decision, Maitree Express was supposed to run six days a week and Bandhan Express three days a week.
Asked about the matter, Md Shamsuzzaman, director general of Bangladesh Railway, said the Indian Railways authorities could not manage slots for Maitree Express running six days a week.
Besides, Bandhan Express cannot run for three days a week due to shortage of carriages, he said, “We will increase the trips in the near future.”
The operation of Dhaka-Kolkata train service resumed on April 14, 2008, ending the 43-year pause, as two passenger trains named Maitree Express started simultaneously from Dhaka and Kolkata.
Bandhan Express was launched on the Khulna-Kolkata route on November 16, 2017.