Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi have jointly flagged off the Khulna-Kolkata train service and opened two bridges on railway routes connecting Dhaka with Sylhet and Chittagong.
The two prime ministers, along with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, inaugurated the projects through a videoconference.
They also launched an "end to end" immigration and customs facilities to ease travel using Dhaka-Kolkata Maitree Train services.
Hasina opened the projects from her official Ganabhaban residence, while Modi inaugurated the schemes from his office in New Delhi. Mamata joined from Kolkata.
Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali, prime minister’s Political Affairs Adviser HT Imam, Economic Affairs Adviser Moshiur Rahman, State Minister for Foreign Affairs M Shahriar Alam and Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir, MP, were present at Ganabhaban.
Railways Minister Mazibul Haque joined the videoconference from the second Bhairab Bridge site.
Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary Kamal Abdul Naser Chowdhury moderated the function at Ganabhaban, while Indian High Commissioner Harsh Vardhan Shringla, National Board of Revenue Chairman Mohammad Nazibur Rahman and Prime Minister’s Press Secretary Ihsanul Karim were present.
The 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 communication between the neighbouring countries.
The train would start ferrying passengers from November 16 and according to the schedule, it would leave Kolkata at 11am (Indian time) and reach Khulna within four and a half hours.
The two railway bridges were constructed with the Indian Line of Credit. The 984-meter long and seven-meter wide Bhairab Railway Bridge was built at a cost of Tk567 crore. Its construction began on December 25, 2013 and ended last month.
Under an agreement with Bangladesh, 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. It was built at a cost of Tk161.36 crore by Indian company Gannon-Flcl Consortium under a nearly identical agreement with the government. The construction of the second Titas Bridge started on January 27, 2014 and ended last month.
"Trains plying Dhaka-Chittagong and Dhaka-Sylhet routes would use both the old and new bridges," Md Abdul Hai, Bangladesh Railway's eastern zone general manager and project director of the two bridges, told BSS.
He said the up train from Dhaka would move through one bridge, while the down one would use the other. Trains connecting Dhaka with the major two cities could travel without crossing train stations in Bhairab and Akhaura.
"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 100km and 120km speed respectively," the official said.
Hai said ECNEC had approved the initiative on November 9, 2010.