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.

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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.

 

India and Bangladesh-the border from hell.

UPDATE: This article describes the situation as it was in May 2015 before the transfer of territories took place.

First have a look at this news report stating that India’s parliament has finally passed legislation regarding the ratification of the land boundary with Bangladesh: http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/rajya-sabha-passes-bill-to-ratify-lba-with-bangladesh/article7177102.ece

So you are wondering what the fuss is about, and why it could not be resolved since 1947. First let us revise some basic geography. As usual, Wikipedia is a good starting point: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enclave_and_exclave

So you now know the difference between an enclave and an exclave, and that there are Indian exclaves in Bangladesh and Bangladeshi exclaves in India. The Bangladeshis would refer to the first type as enclaves in their country while the Indians would refer to the second type as enclaves in their country. These are also called first-order enclaves/exclaves.

So far so good. Then there is the counter-enclave or enclave within an enclave (or exclave within an exclave if you prefer). There are quite a few of these, namely an Indian exclave in Bangladesh which includes a Bangladeshi exclave totally surrounded by the aforementioned Indian exclave. Similarly you would have a Bangladeshi exclave in India which includes an Indian exclave fully surrounded by the aforementioned Bangladeshi exclave. These are known as second-order enclaves/exclaves.

Is your head starting to spin? Finally, we end with the counter-counter enclave or third-order enclave which does have one example. You might as well look at this on the map: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indo-Bangladesh_enclaves#/media/File:Dahala_Khagrabari.png 

Cooch Behar has sometimes been the butt of jokes, with Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children” having a minor character named the Maharani of Cooch Naheen (i.e. “The Queen of Nothing”). An old map showing the messy border of Cooch Behar can be seen here.

It can be enlarged: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indo-Bangladesh_enclaves#/media/File:Coochbehar.jpg

For an overall view, you could look at this segment from Google maps. Start from the quaintly named village of Phansidewa (“gallows”) and try tracing the border eastward through Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar and finally Dhubri district: https://www.google.co.in/maps/@26.4979994,88.6693472,11z

(However, as of 2017 Google Maps shows the border as it is today and does not show the enclaves.)

A good overall summary is here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indo-Bangladesh_enclaves Note the apparently true story about the rulers of Cooch Behar and Rangpur exchanging villages as gambling stakes (though they really should have used something like poker chips). The article gives a full list of enclaves (though the actual documents run into hundreds of pages).

Life in these exclaves can be harsh. You would generally live in close proximity to trigger-happy border guards and barbed wire, while your “parent” country would not be able to ensure any services to your territory as you can see here: http://archive.thedailystar.net/2004/06/17/d40617070171.htm

This weird border has attracted the attention of trivia-hunters and serious scholars from around the world. Apart from various magazine articles referenced in the Wikipedia article, you can even download a doctoral thesis (over 500 pages long) with the quaint title of “Waiting for the esquimo”: “Waiting for the esquimo: An historical and documentary study of the Cooch Behar enclaves of India and Bangladesh”

Tail piece: My old friend Milan Chatterjee wondered if any railway line on the Indian side of the border crossed any Bangladeshi exclave. A closer look at the route from Cooch Behar to Gitaldaha and Bamanhat revealed that this was not the case, but that the abandoned line from Bamanhat to the border did momentarily cross three of these enclaves: https://www.google.co.in/maps/place/Cooch+Behar,+West+Bengal/@26.0731929,89.5882181,14z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x39e2fc1ce181e4bd:0xe7787e092217f629 These stretches would total about 700 M (estimated by eye).

It is also understood that the old Gitaldaha Junction was relocated to a new location further from the border, and this was naturally known as New Gitaldaha Junction. It is still possible to visit the “old” Gitaldaha junction where a now-defunct bridge crossed the river into East Pakistan/Bangladesh.

However, on the Bangladeshi side of the border the line from Burimari (on the border) to Lalmonirhat does pass through a few hundred metres of two Indian exclaves. It is not known if there is any particular problem with train operations here: https://www.google.co.in/maps/@26.3082452,89.0624778,14z

Finally, here is a 28-minute video by an Indian TV channel showing various aspects of life in the enclaves (Mainly English, some Hindi and Bengali): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7hijHa0DYQ