Station signs then and now

Rajshahi, Bangladesh in late 1971:

Rajshahi station-old

Rajshahi today:

Rajshahi station-new

Dinajpur, Bangladesh also in late 1971. The two pictures from 1971 appear to have been taken by Indian military personnel:

Dinajpur old

Dinajpur today:

Dinajpur new

Karachi Cantt in the 1940s (from a film taken by a British soldier): Possibly young L. K. Advani appears in it somewhere.

Karachi Cantt-1

Karachi Cantt today:

Karachi Cantt new (2)

Lahore Jn, probably around 1940:

Lahore-just-before-Partition

Lahore Jn today:

Lahore today

 

 

 

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Railway maps of Bangladesh

Getting information about the railway network in Bangladesh is difficult, especially as detailed timetables for the public have not been issued since around 1980. (Sri Lanka also seems to have stopped issuing timetables long ago). Anyway, one reference which gives the list of stations based on timetables up to 1978 is: http://www.railwaystationlists.co.uk/pdfasia/bangladeshrlys.pdf

For general timings of long-distance trains there are various official and non-official websites, like: http://www.railway.gov.bd/site/page/f8898018-00a5-4096-a803-8b533232e60c/f8898018-00a5-4096-a803-8b533232e60c?lang=en

The Indian Bradshaw used to publish timetables of East Pakistan and Bangladesh up to the mid-1970s although I have grave doubts as to whether the data for India’s neighboring countries was regularly updated.

Anyway, I have collected a few maps from various sources which some may find useful.

This one is from the “Railway Map of India” published by the Survey of India in 1991. Data for neighboring countries may not be fully up to date.

Bangladesh 1991 (SOI) 001

Note that the border stations on the Indian side are marked in red. There were probably limited cross-border goods services on a few routes at that time, though details are unclear. Note the Rupsa East-Bagerhat line being shown as NG, though from other reliable sources we know that it was converted to BG in around 1970 and closed after a few years.

Also note that there was no bridge connecting the western and eastern halves of the country. This purpose was served by the ferries between Sirajganj Ghat and Jagannathganj Ghat, and between Tistamukh Ghat and Bahadurabad Ghat. The Bangabandhu Bridge came up near the Sirajganj-Jagannathganj ferry.

Now we have this amateur effort from 2002. It was created by Y. Sakai, who appears to have been a Japanese who spent some time in Bangladesh. He tried to show every station which was then functioning. It does not show the link between the Bangabandhu bridge and Dhaka, which had not opened then.

BangladeshRouteMap

Also in pdf, which is easier to zoom and read:

BangladeshRouteMap

This mapmaker seems to have done his own transliteration from Bengali to English, so the names may not exactly tally with earlier English maps and timetables. I found it useful while traveling in 2008, before the age of smartphones where one could follow Google Maps and the like.

Finally we have this map dated 2013 taken from the official website. This can be considered to be the latest official version, though it does not show every station.

BD Rly Off Map-2013 001

It does have some information about the little-known bypasses of Ishurdi and Akhaura which avoid reversals for numerous long-distance trains. Note the newer developments such as the links from Bangabandhu bridge to Joydebpur (for Dhaka) and Jamalpur Town (for the Mymensingh area).

Some lines like Feni-Belonia are shown to be closed, but the Kulaura-Shahbazpur (ex Latu) line is shown to be open while other sources say that no train has run there since around 2002.

Other points of interest are at least two stations where Bangladeshi trains run within a few metres of the Indian border, at Hili in the west and Kasba in the east.

Someone who was really interested could create a more detailed atlas using this as a basis and supplementing it with Google Maps. To show sufficient detail, it would have to be in book form like the well-known Great Indian Railway Atlas. See http://indianrailstuff.com/gira3/

But would it be commercially viable? Perhaps only a handful of railfans (and that too mainly from outside Bangladesh) would want to buy it. The print-on-demand self-publishing sites could provide a way out.

Revival of the Barisal Express

Much excitement has been caused among those connected with the Railways by the imminent start of the new cross-border train between Kolkata and Khulna.  Trial runs  were held a few days ago and many videos can be seen on Youtube showing the train running at various places along the line to Bangaon and beyond. Here is an example:

 

The earlier Maitree Express, now running between Kolkata and Dhaka Cantt, follows a route in which much of the route in Bangladesh did not exist before Partition. There had been trains with names like the Dacca Mail which started from Sealdah and terminated at Goalundo Ghat, from where the passengers embarked on a ferry trip of several hours to Narayanganj on the outskirts of Dacca (as it was then spelt). By 2001 the Bangabandhu Bridge had been completed along with a connecting line to Dhaka. This provided a route from the Gede-Darsana border to Dhaka without a ferry crossing. More about that in another post.

This new service between Kolkata and Khulna revives a pre-partition train called the Barisal Express between Sealdah and Khulna which was running since at least the 1930s. In fact it was running for some time after Partition and was listed in the ER timetables of 1964. However, all cross-border services between India and East Pakistan ceased with the 1965 war.

In a Bradshaw dated February 1935, we see the 31 Barisal Express leaving Sealdah at 15.26 and arriving at Khulna at 10.45. It stopped at many places beyond the present border, though the main stoppages were Bongaon (16.47/16.55) and Jessore (17.59/18.02). The return train was the 30 Barisal Express which left Khulna at 05.45 and reached Sealdah at 10.10, with the main stops at Jessore (07.27/07.30) and Bongaon (08.34/08.42).

Here is an extract from a Bradshaw of 1943, which is unfortunately not very legible as it has been photocopied many times.

Barisal express 1943 001

Part of the first page has got cropped, although the full route from Khulna can be seen on the second page. The distance is shown as 110 miles or 177 km.

Another curiosity on these pages is the Khulna-Bagerhat Light Railway, which was to be the only narrow gauge line running in East Pakistan. It started from Rupsa East, across the river from Khulna and was not linked to the rest of the rail network. This line was converted to BG around 1970 but was closed a few years later as it was uneconomical.

From the above time table, you can see that Petrapole station did not exist then and the border crossed the line between Bongaon and Benapol. The station at Petrapole, like Gede, was built after Partition in order to provide a station closer to the new international border.

Running of limited goods and passenger trains across the border continued after Partition up to 1965, though there may have been interruptions. Those who have been following the Indian Railways since the 1960s may remember seeing BG wagons marked PE and PW, being the initials of the then Pakistan Eastern and Pakistan Western Railways.

Goods trains across Gede-Darsana and Petrapol-Benapol and (to a lesser extent) other crossing  points were running for some time before the Maitree express between Kolkata and Dhaka started running in 2008. There are frequent EMU services between Sealdah and Bangaon (the present spelling), but no passenger train seems to have run to Petrapole since 1965 till the present. Goods trains would have crossed the border after formalities at this station.

In early 2008 I had traveled by road from Khulna to Benapol. The highway between Khulna and Jessore runs mainly adjacent to the rails. One could see a number of IR wagons from various zones stabled at the small stations on this route.

A Google maps reference for Petrapole and surrounding areas is given here. Those who are interested can trace the path to Khulna, which involves a sharp turn to the south at Jessore.

https://www.google.co.in/maps/place/Bangaon+Junction+Railway+Station/@23.0368542,88.8727271,16z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x39ff35a4ff881b6f:0xff12ef03d5e82d1!8m2!3d23.0302415!4d88.8330527

It can be seen that the main road crossing point is in the vicinity, though not very close to Petrapole and Benapol stations.

Petrapole-2

Here is the checkpoint for the existing Maitree Express at Kolkata station. Presumably the new train will also use it.

Kolkata-Maitree counter

Getting details of stations functioning in Bangladesh at present is not very easy, particularly as no detailed timetable seems to have been published since the 1980s. If one is really interested one can refer to http://www.railwaystationlists.co.uk/pdfasia/bangladeshrlys.pdf although it does not seem to have information beyond the 80s. This is the best I can find, from a map published by a railfan around 2001. The mapmaker has tried to show every station which existed at that time.

Benapol-Jessore section

Here is the best official map which I could find, which is dated 2013. It does not show every station.

http://www.railway.gov.bd/site/page/ff534cd8-a522-4c7d-a48c-6d41dc63aa82/Railway-Route-Map

While the route from Khulna to Jessore is part of the main line going to the north-western part of Bangladesh, the Jessore-Benapol section was quite neglected with a single pair of local trains between Khulna and Benapol. See train nos 53/54 near the bottom of this page:

http://www.travelonebd.com/transportation/12-railway/18-bangladesh-railway-schedule

This is a typical branch line train of Bangladesh, which you can see in this short clip:

 

Clearly the new service from Kolkata to Khulna will be a considerable improvement over the crowded EMUs on the Indian side and the neglected passenger train shown above.

 

For railfans-the Fergusson papers

This is primarily for railfans interested in lists of stations on railway systems across the world. Some explanation is necessary.

The Fergusson papers on the link given below are compiled by an Englishman named Jim Fergusson, who has been collecting timetables from all over the world since around 1950. He has got hold of timetables from different time periods ranging from the 19th to the 21st century.

Most of those reading this will be interested in the Indian railway system. That is not covered, but the systems of all our neighbours (Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and even Myanmar) are covered. He seems to have drawn largely from the Indian Bradshaw which has been published since the 19th century but seems to have vanished a few years ago.

Have a look at it here:

http://www.railwaystationlists.co.uk/