The peculiar border at Hili station came about because the Radcliffe Commission wanted to preserve the integrity of the main north-south BG line in East Pakistan.
At Quasba, it is a different story. The old Assam Bengal Railway did not wish that their lines entered the princely state of Tripura, so their main line going south to Chattogram ran within a few hundred metres of the border. The station was earlier known as Kamalasagar, a small town in Tripura. Its name was changed soon after it became part of East Pakistan.
One common attraction for Indian visitors to Agartala was to look into Bangladesh and see trains running through Quasba, which is a few hundred metres from the Indian border. In recent years this area has become a “soft border” where people from both countries can interact in a buffer zone. This seems to have benefited local businesses,
In these videos you can observe trains running in Bangladesh. All long distance trains from Chattogram to other parts of Bangladesh have to pass this way.
Pictures of these trains taken from higher points in India:
Then there is Hili station in Bangladesh. The boundary commission decided that the railway line itself was to be the border between India and East Pakistan. This becomes apparent here:
Looking from the Indian side. The wall and the rail line are in Bangladesh.
Also see this picture taken from a Bangladeshi train:
Note the cows grazing just within Bangladeshi territory marked by the stone. Clearly they have no problem in crossing the border. Hope they know which side is safer for them.
Elsewhere in Bangladesh, Quasba station is just across the Indian border. It used to be called Kamalasagar, after the town in India. Radcliffe cannot be blamed here as this was the existing border between Tripura and Bengal.
More weird things happened in the partition of Berlin which became more stringent after the Berlin Wall came up in 1961. While a number of roads and railways were blocked by barriers, there were special cases like Wollank Strasse station on the S-Bahn (which was largely on the surface, unlike the U-Bahn which was largely underground):
This station actually lay in East Berlin. But this platform opened out to a street in West Berlin.
Trains ran through from one side of West Berlin to another, and passengers could board or get down here.
However, no train stopped on the other track-as the Berlin Wall was right next to it. And the East Berliners in the buildings on the right could see the West Berliners going about their lives at this station and beyond.
Bornholmer Strasse, which featured in various novels and films set in the Cold War, is adjacent to this station:
We now turn to another video of this station. The commentary (in Bengali) is not too useful, but keep your eyes open.
Especially this clip at 1:56
This gives the full picture of passenger services running through. These include (mainly) BG expresses, while there are a few MG expresses as well. These are to connect Dhaka to places in the North (such as Dinajpur and Rangpur) which were (as of 2017) only on metre gauge. This timetable is valid from 01 March 2017.
Another quirk of Bangladesh Railways is that Intercity Expresses are considered to the best services while the Mail/Expresses are slower and less preferred. At the bottom of the hierarchy is the Local passenger, which also exist on this section.
I am transliterating the train names and place names here:
The train you see at 2.25 onwards is a northbound MG train. It can only be the 750 Dhaka – Dinajpur Ekota Express. Or the 757 Drutajan Express with very abnormal rescheduling.
A typical sleepy rural station, which is not what you would expect to see on an international border. You can see that there are long-distance trains stopping there throughout the night, so there are likely to be major security issues as we see (from the previous video from the Indian group) that it is not difficult to cross between he countries without being noticed.
The border stone is slightly to the west of the level crossing. As you may recall, the Radcliffe Award mentioned that the railway line itself was to be the border. So both sides try to manage the best they can.
In the next few years, an extension from Balurghat will bring the Indian Railways up to India’s Hili.
(In the other side of Bangladesh, the MG branch line from Feni to Belonia was closed long ago. Meanwhile the BG line of IR has extended from Agartala down to India’s Belonia and further down.)
Note: Bangladesh Railways has stopped issuing printed timetables many years ago. Individual stations will have displays like this (and remember, outside the larger cities it is often Bengali or nothing). You can see the overall timetables on this site:
An update which shows a group from West Bengal visiting this area. This was uploaded earlier in 2019.
Commentary is in Bengali with English subtitles.
The narrator was not quite correct about the pre-partition Darjeeling Mail. In fact it took over 13 hours from Sealdah to the old Siliguri Jn (now Siliguri Town). And it did not go anywhere near Bangaon and Jessore. Here you can see its timetable in 1944:
In the next post, you will see more about current passenger services on the BR trains through Hili. Remember that it is dual BG/MG. More precisely, it was BG since the 1920s and MG has been added after 2000, to facilitate MG services from Dhaka across the Bangabandhu Bridge to destinations such as Dinajpur, Rangpur and Lalmonirhat which are (or were until recently) on MG lines from Parbatipur.
The writer of the latter piece is quite knowledgeable though he fails to mention that Sylhet district of Assam was also partitioned.
Today I will deal with one specific oddity which is on the border between West Bengal and Bangladesh.
The actual reports produced by the Radcliffe Commission total only about 7 pages, dealing with the partition of Punjab, Bengal and Sylhet district of Assam. Strangely enough these documents do not seem to be easily available anywhere on the net, though they are readily available in various publications. The following extract is from p.21 of “Committees & Commissions in India, 1947-54″ compiled by Virendra Kumar (Concept Publishing, Delhi, 1976)
” The line shall run…….and will terminate at the point where the boundary between Phulbari and Balurghat meets the north-south line of the Bengal & Assam Railway in the eastern corner of the Thana of Balurghat. The line shall turn down the western edge of the railway lands and follow that edge until it meets the boundary between the Thanas of Balurghat and Panchbibi”
What this means is the boundary line (which was basically intended to segregate Hindu-majority and Muslim-majority areas) needed some special adjustments to avoid disruption to communication links. This was not the only place this happened. In this particular case the north-south railway line (which was then on the route of the prestigious Darjeeling Mail) remained a major connection between the north-western part of East Pakistan and the rest of the country, and so it should not be disturbed and the Pakistani trains should be able to run without hindrance.
You could expand it further if needed. What should be apparent is that the town of Hili lies on both sides of the border, and that the railway embankment itself is the border. The border itself seems to cut through the station premises.
Here are a few pictures from this area:
Border marker near the railway line:
The black cow is closer to the Indian border than the white cow. Perhaps they come and go across the border. Probably the black cow has realized that her life expectancy will be more in India than in Bangladesh.
An Indian truck waiting to cross the border (which is the railway line itself):
Note the BG/MG dual gauge track.
A couple of pictures from Hili station itself. The second one shows some semblance of security with the BGB (the equivalent of the BSF):
(As in many smaller stations in Bangladesh, the signboards may be only in Bengali).
To get a better idea of the ground situation, here is a segment of a documentary by CNN-IBN which apparently dates to 2007. It should be self-explanatory:
As you can see, at that time no one seemed to bother if you crossed the border in either direction. Probably things are a little tighter now, though the great wall of barbed wire probably has a break here.