Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on Thursday jointly flagged off the Khulna-Kolkata train service and opened two bridges on railway routes connecting Dhaka with Sylhet and Chittagong.
The two premiers along with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee inaugurated the projects through a videoconferencing from Dhaka and New Delhi when they also launched an "end to end" immigration and customs facilities to ease Dhaka-Kolkata Maitree Train services.
The Bangladesh premier opened the projects from her official Ganabhaban residence in Dhaka, while Narendra Modi inaugurated the schemes from his office in New Delhi. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee joined the inauguration from Kolkata.
Bangladesh Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali, PM's Political Affairs Adviser HT Imam, Economic Affairs Adviser Dr Moshiur Rahman, State Minister for Foreign Affairs M Shahriar Alam and Dr Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir, MP, were also present at Ganabhaban, while Railways Minister Mazibul Haque joined the videoconferencing from the second Bhairab Bridge site.
PM's Principal Secretary Dr Kamal Abdul Naser Chowdhury moderated the function at Ganabhaban, while Indian High Commissioner Hrash Vardhan Shringla, National Board of Revenue Chairman Mohammad Nazibur Rahman and PM's Press Secretary Ihsanul Karim were present.
The two new railway bridges -- the second Bhairab and the second Titas --were built on the Meghna and Titas rivers respectively as a second track was constructed for simultaneous operation of up and down train services from Dhaka to Chittagong and Sylhet.
The Khulna-Kolkata train Bandhan Express was launched to ease further communication between the two neighbouring countries.
The train on the route, however, would start ferrying passengers from November 16 and according to the schedule, it would leave Kolkata at 11am (Indian time) and reach Khulna within only four and a half hours by plying 177 kilometres.
The two railway bridges were constructed with the Indian Line of Credit (LoC).
The 984-meter long and seven-meter width Bhairab Railway Bridge was built at a cost of Tk 567 crore, while its construction began on December 25 in 2013 and ended last month.
Under an agreement with Bangladesh government, India's Ircon-Afcons JV constructed the bridge having both dual gauge and broad-gauge facilities.
The new Titas Bridge is 218-meter in length and 7- meter in width while it was built at a cost of Tk 161.36 crore by another Indian company called Gannon-Flcl Consortium under a nearly identical agreement with the government.
The construction of the second Titas Bridge started on January 27 in 2014 and ended last month.
"Trains plying Dhaka-Chittagong and Dhaka-Sylhet routes would use both the old and new bridges," Bangladesh Railway's eastern zone general manager and project director of the two bridges Md Abdul Hai told BSS.
He said the up train from Dhaka would move through one bridge, while the down one would use the other while the trains connecting Dhaka with the major two cities could ply without any crossing at Bhairab and Akhaura stations.
"The bridges will cut travel time between Dhaka and Chittagong and Dhaka and Sylhet and we will be able to run the dual gauge and broad gauge trains at 100 kilometer and 120-km speed respectively," the official said.
Hai said ECNEC had approved the initiative on November 9 in 2010 to smoothen the Dhaka-Chittagong Double Line train services.-BSS