More than 52 years after it was stopped, India and Bangladesh launched the Bandhan Express to resume train services connecting Kolkata with the industrial town of Khulna, the third largest city in Bangladesh. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee flagged off the train through video links. Two railway bridges in Bangladesh built with Indian funding were also opened and a proposed international passenger terminal launched at the same time.
In 1965, the Barisal Express connecting Kolkata to Khulna was stopped because of the India-Pakistan war. The Bandhan Express is the first train connecting Kolkata and Khulna after that. The train is the second between the two countries. The Maitree Express between Kolkata and Dhaka Cantonment was flagged off in April 2008. The tri-weekly train has been a success since its launch, seeing 90 per cent occupancy. The train has capacity of 456 passengers.
The Bandhan Express will take the Petrapole and Benapole border route. It will be a weekly service. The Kolkata-Khulna Bandhan will depart from Kolkata at 7.10 am (IST) and arrive at Khulna at 12.30 PM (BST) every Thursday. The new train also has 456 AC seats — 312 AC chair cars and 144 AC first-class seats. The two governments Thursday also inaugurated an international passenger terminal in Kolkata station for end-to-end customs and immigration facilities.
Modi said the ties of friendship between India and Bangladesh have been further strengthened through these projects. In Bengali, he said: “Aaj ei shubho upolokkhe dui desh bashider amar abhinandan janai. Aaj amader maitreyir bandhan aro suddhreero holo (I congratulate the people of the two countries on this auspicious occasion. Our bond of friendship was further strengthened today)…. It has been my conviction that there should be good neighbourly relations between leaders of neighbouring countries in its true sense.”
Modi said there should be talks and meetings between them whenever required and these should not be bound by protocol.
“The names of the two train services connecting the two countries — Maitree (friendship) and Bandhan (bond) are similar to our shared vision,” he said, adding that he was always reminded of the vision of restoring the pre-1965 connectivity between the two countries whenever there were talks on connectivity. “I am happy that we are proceeding step by step in that direction,” he said.
On the inauguration of the rail bridges in Bangladesh at a cost of around $100 million, he said the bridges would be helpful in strengthening Bangladesh’s rail connectivity. “It is a matter of pride for India to be a trusted partner in Bangladesh’s development,” Modi said.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee described the launch as a remarkable day for India and Bangladesh. She mentioned the closeness of the two places where Bengali is spoken — “epar Bangla aar opar Bangla (this side and that side of erstwhile Bengal)”. “The relations between the two countries will strengthen in the future,” she said.
Hasina said, “This train service is a dream come true for people on both sides of the border.” She said trade, business and cultural relations will get a boost.
India has extended soft loans worth $8 billion to Bangladesh for various development projects, including the two bridges — the second Bharirab bridge and Titas railway bridge in Bangladesh — according to an Indian Railways communication.