Defunct since the India-Pakistan war of 1965, the rail link between Haldibari and Chilahati was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina on Thursday, taking the number of operational rail links between the two countries to five.
With this new link coming into operation, tourists from Bangladesh will be able to visit places like Darjeeling, Sikkim, Dooars, apart from countries like Nepal and Bhutan, with ease.
Economic activities of these South Asian countries will also be benefitted from this new rail link, the railways said.
PM Modi and Ms Hasina jointly inaugurated the railway link between Haldibari in India and Chilahati in Bangladesh during a prime minister-level virtual bilateral summit.
Later, a goods train was flagged off by the Railway Minister of Bangladesh, Mohammad Nurul Islam Sujan, from the Chilahati station, which entered India passing through the international border, thus heralding a new era for the people living in both the countries.
The railway networks of India and Bangladesh are mostly inherited from the British-era Indian Railways. After the partition in 1947, seven rail links were operational between India and the then East Pakistan (up to 1965).
"Presently, there are four operational rail links between India and Bangladesh. They are Petrapole (India)-Benapole (Bangladesh), Gede (India)-Darshana (Bangladesh), Singhabad (India)-Rohanpur (Bangladesh), Radhikapur (India)-Birol (Bangladesh)."
The Haldibari-Chilahati rail link being made functional from December 17 is the 5th rail link between India and Bangladesh.
"The Haldibari-Chilahati rail link was operational till 1965. This was part of the broad gauge main route from Kolkata to Siliguri during partition. Trains travelling to Assam and north Bengal continued to travel through the then East Pakistan territory even after partition. For example, a train from Sealdah to Siliguri used to enter East Pakistan territory from Darshana and exit using the Haldibari-Chilahati link. However, the war of 1965 effectively cut off all the railway links between India and the then East Pakistan. So on the eastern sector of India, partition of the railways thus happened in 1965. So the importance of the reopening of this rail link can be well imagined," a statement from the railway ministry said.
In May 2015, in pursuance of the joint declaration at the Inter-Governmental Railway Meeting (IGRM) held in Delhi, the Railway Board sanctioned the construction of a new broad gauge line from the Haldibari station to the Bangladesh border for connection with Chilahati with a length of 3.5 km in 2016-17 in order to reopen the erstwhile rail link.
While the Indian Railways has restored the tracks up to the international border from the Haldibari station at a cost of Rs 82.72 crore, the Bangladesh Railways has also accordingly undertaken upgrading and laying of missing tracks from the Chilahati station to the international border.
On the Bangladeshi side, the existing Chilahati-Parbatipur-Santahar-Darshana line is already in broad gauge.
"The Haldibari-Chilahati route will be beneficial for transit into Bangladesh from Assam and West Bengal. This newly-opened rail link will enhance rail network accessibility to the main ports, dry ports and land borders to support the growth in regional trade and encourage economic and social development of the region. Common people and businessmen of both the countries will be able to reap the benefits of both goods and passenger traffic once passenger trains are planned in this route," the ministry said.