The Maitree Express train (Bengali: মৈত্রী এক্সপ্রেস), pronounced Moitree Express is the name of the first modern day, fully air conditioned, international, express rail service connecting Dhaka in Bangladesh to Kolkata in the Indian state of West Bengal. The Bengali name Maitree Express means the Friendship Express when translated to English, denoting the significance of the train service to the friendly foreign relations between India and Bangladesh. Previously train services between the two countries existed before the partition of India and the Maitree Express re-established this connection between Dhaka and Kolkata in 2008 after being closed for 43 years. In 2017 a second train service, the Bandhan Express, was inaugurated connecting Kolkata with the Bangladeshi city of Khulna, recreating the previous Barisal Express train route.
The Partition of India in 1947 disrupted rail links in the province of Bengal, which was divided into the Indian state of West Bengal and the Pakistani province of East Bengal (later renamed East Pakistan in 1956). During British rule over the undivided land, regular over-night trains connected Kolkata, Goalanda, Dhaka and Narayanganj. In addition pre-partition, Darjeeling Mail connecting Kolkata (Sealdah Station) with Siliguri ran through what became East Pakistan via Gede-Darshana and Chilahati-Haldibari. Three train services from Sealdah—East Bengal Mail to Parbatipur Junction via Gede-Darshana, East Bengal Express to Goalundo Ghat via Gede-Darshana, and the Barisal Express to Khulna via Benapole-Petrapole—continued operation between the two countries until 1965, when the outbreak of the Indo-Pakistani Conflict of 1965 led to the closure of all passenger train links. The Bangladesh Liberation War resulted in the independence of East Pakistan as the nation-state of Bangladesh. The Maitree Express follows the same route as the first two trains above via Gede-Darshana.
In 2001, the two national governments agreed upon the railway train scheme during bilateral talks. The train service concept got a major boost during the visit of the then Indian Foreign Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, to Dhaka in February 2007. On 8 July 2007, the first train ran from Kolkata to Dhaka in a test run, carrying Indian government officials who were to meet their Bangladeshi counterparts to finalise train schedules. In response to Indian security demands, a "box-fencing" system was to be erected on either side on the no-man's land between the two countries. The inauguration of the train service was held on the occasion of the Bengali New Year (Bengali: পয়লা বৈশাখ) 14 April 2008.
On 14 April 2008, on the occasion of the Bengali New Year, the train service was launched with much fanfare. The flag-off ceremony for the first train leaving Kolkata from the Kolkata railway station in Chitpur was attended by dignitaries such as the Indian Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav; Information and Broadcasting Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi; the Governor of West Bengal Gopalkrishna Gandhi; and the Bangladesh High Commissioner to India Liquat Ali Chowdhury. The Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee officially flagged-off the inaugural train from Kolkata, bound for Dhaka. Another train departed at the same time carrying passengers from Dhaka to Kolkata. But the 360-seater Calcutta to Dhaka express train was carrying barely 65 passengers, including journalists and politicians, on its inaugural run. Indian Railways officials stated that the train service was launched hurriedly, and that when information would spread there would be a greater response and passenger numbers. An official statement from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said, "The agreement will strengthen bilateral relations and provide an alternative mode of passenger transport."
The inauguration of the train service evoked mostly positive public responses in both countries. Thousands of people gathered along the train route from Kolkata up to the border crossing point in Gede to cheer the inaugural train. However, a small group supposedly representing Hindu refugees from Bangladesh, the Nikhil Banga Nagarik Sangha (All Bengal Citizens Committee) protested the launching of the train service, citing alleged persecution of Hindus in Bangladesh; possible terrorist infiltration into India; and demanding the rehabilitation of Bangladeshi Hindu refugees. Police reports stated that 87 people (including 11 women) had been arrested for blocking the train by squatting on the tracks and refusing to move. Police blamed the group for planting three crude bombs on the route, which were defused a day before the launch on 13 April 2008. After this initial incident, this train service has been incident free so far.
Maitree Express Route & Operations
The Maitree Express runs six days a week. The train travels around 375 kilometers to reach Dhaka from Kolkata. Earlier there were two stops for immigration checks in Kolkata and Dhaka. One in Gede on the Indian side and the other in Dorshona on the Bangladeshi side. Since November 2017 immigration and customs are completed at Dhaka and Kolkata. This has reduced travel time by two to three hours.
It takes around 9 hours to cover the entire stretch. The entire stretch is covered by broad-gauge diesel locomotives. A change of crew and locomotives takes place at Dorshona in Bangladesh. There are two major river crossings, the 100 year old Hardinge Bridge over the Padma River and the Bangabandhu Bridge over the Jamuna River. Both river crossings occur in Bangladesh. Since Pahela Boishak 2017 (Bengali: পহেলা বৈশাখ), 14 April 2017, all coaches have been changed to air conditioned LHB coaches thus enhancing the travel experience.
Regular train departures are as follows:
|Dhaka to Kolkata||Friday||3107||BR|
|Kolkata to Dhaka||Saturday||3108||BR|
The train service is very reliable and punctual. It starts from Kolkata at 07:10 and reaches Dhaka at 15:35 the same day. Similarly, it starts from Dhaka at 07:45 and reaches Kolkata at 16:00. This train's route does not involve any lengthy ferry-crossing pauses or border checks. It is also less costly than the Kolkata to Dhaka air conditioned luxury bus services. Terminal points are Dhaka Cantonment and Kolkata (Chitpur) stations respectively. While Kolkata is a true terminal station, it is possible to continue by local train onwards to Dhaka's main station in Komolapur from Dhaka Cantonment station. The nearest metro station from Kolkata is Shyambazar – a distance of 1.2 km. There is a public bus terminal right outside Kolkata Railway Station with connectivity to various parts of the city.
The development of the Kolkata-Dhaka train service is akin to that of the Samjhauta Express (meaning "Understanding" or "Accord" Express), which connects the Indian capital Delhi to Lahore in Pakistan. Both train services were opened to revive rail links between the countries that were disrupted by the partition of India in 1947, and both have been used as symbols of goodwill and cooperation between India and Bangladesh in the case of the Maitree Express, and India and Pakistan in the case of the Samjhauta Express.
Earlier the Maitree Express was earlier (till 11) said to be running at 50% occupancy. With increase in runs to six days per week, four times each direction this service has gained in popularity. Other challenges remain-terminal stations in both Kolkata & Dhaka being on the city outskirts. Better publicity in local media at both terminal cities also could help raise patronage leading to the train becoming a daily service. In 2018 patronage has increased and average occupancy is 90%.
Unlike most of the Indian trains, online booking through the IRCTC website is not available for this train. Tickets are only available in local currency at the booking counters of Chitpur Station in Kolkata and a valid Bangladeshi visa in the passport is mandatory before purchasing a ticket. A valid visa and passport has to be shown when purchasing the train ticket. While applying for a visa it was earlier essential to specify the port of entry as "By rail-Gede" (for an Indian visa) or "By rail-Darshana"(for a Bangladeshi visa). Tickets will be issued only after issue of the visa. Valid passports must be shown while booking. In case all passengers are not present, an authorisation is required while booking tickets. After both countries started issuing an e-Visa, mentioning specific port and mode of transport is no longer required. Since this is a highly popular train tickets need to be booked at least 5 or 6 days in advance.
As of 18 June 2014, return tickets are available on a predefined number of seats, for up-to two weeks before the date of journey, excluding the journey date. The return tickets have to be validated, by going to the station two hours before the departure of the train. The return fare includes only the base fare, and all other taxes and service charges have to be paid during the validation of the ticket. This is applicable for return journeys from both Dhaka as well as Kolkata.
Tickets are available in Dhaka from the Main Reservation Counter of Kamalapur Station. The counter at Dhaka Cantonment is open everyday from 0900 to 1900. A valid visa and passport has to be shown when purchasing the train ticket. In Kolkata tickets may be purchased from the International Ticket Booking Counter at Fairlie Place, Dalhousie Square, and also at Chitpur Station in Kolkata on the day of arrival of the train from Dhaka.
- "Dhaka-Calcutta train link resumes". BBC News. BBC. 14 April 2008. Retrieved 17 April 2008.
- "Kolkata-Dhaka Moitree Express flagged off". The Times of India. Times Internet Limited. 14 April 2008. Retrieved 17 April 2008.
- "Maitree Express-II chugged across India, Bangladesh border amid cheers, applause". Indo-Asian News Service. Firstpost. 8 April 2017. Retrieved 13 April 2017.
- "Sheikh Hasina visit: Maitree Express to be made fully AC, new passenger service to be announced". Press Trust of India. The Indian Express. 7 April 2017. Retrieved 13 April 2017.
- Sudworth, John (8 July 2007). "First India-Bangladesh train link". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 17 April 2008.
- "Kolkata-Dhaka train service to resume on Bengali New Year". The Times of India. Times Internet Limited. 12 April 2008. Retrieved 17 April 2008.
- "A Report from Dhaka to Kolkata on the first operation day". BBC News, watching available by Windows Media Player. Retrieved 20 April 2008.
- Bhaumik, Subir (9 April 2008). "Excitement mounts over train link". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 17 April 2008.
- "Moitree Express resumes journey after brief halt". The Times of India. Times Internet Limited. 14 April 2008. Retrieved 17 April 2008.
- "Maitree Express Schedule". বাংলাদেশ রেলওয়ে. Bangladesh Railway.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Maitree Express.|
- Bangladesh Railway - Maitree Express Schedule মৈত্রী এক্সপ্রেস ট্রেনের সময়সূচি এবং ভাড়া
- "India's Frontier Railways" documentary by BBC, includes 1 hour on Maitree Express
- Map of India-Bangladesh border links