Bangladesh, India to test-run freight train in August
A full rake of empty containers is scheduled to arrive in Dhaka in test-run through the only broad- gauge connection through Gede (India)-Darshana (Bangladesh) border gates in West Bengal next month.
Subsequently Bangladesh will send back the rake loaded with its export cargo to India, officials in Dhaka said. The effort, if successful, may have a major cost impact on the bilateral trade.
The existing broad-gauge connection is currently used for running a passenger train, Maitree Express, between Dhaka and Kolkata.
The test-run will be conducted to assess the feasibility of extending the services on commercial basis. Bangladesh is the ninth-largest importer of Indian goods and the some $6.5 billion annual trade beteen the two countries is now dominated by non-containerised road cargo - mostly through the Petrapole border in West Bengal, traders said.
India's state-owned Container Corporation (CONCOR) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Container Company of Bangladesh Ltd (CCBL) in this regard in April, during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to New Delhi.
Road transport is distinctly costlier than rail. A 2010 BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) trade logistics study pointed out that rail movement can be 30 per cent cheaper than even sea-freight (which is normally considered the cheapest) between the two neighbours.
To add to the problem, Bangladesh - India road cargo is subjected to heavy rent-seeking and delay, especially in the 70-km congested stretch between Kolkata and Petrapole.
As the trade is heavily tilted in favour of India, the road movement eats into the competitiveness of Bangladesh exports ($ nearly $ 1 billion). Loading and unloading of non-containerised road cargo at the border further makes the trade costly and unsafe.
Direct movement of containerised cargo by train may, therefore, reduce trade costs significantly. Also, containerisation will make the trade more organised and safer.
Indian business newspaper Business Line of The Hindu in a report dispatched from Kolkata on Friday said : The movement of container train may not be free from concerns. To reach Dhaka, the train has to cross the 5-km long Jamuna Multipurpose Bridge, connecting Eastern and Western Bangladesh.
Opened in 1998, the bridge developed cracks by 2008, leading to load restrictions. It is therefore yet to be established if a loaded container train can reach Dhaka, the report said.
Sources say Bangladesh authorities now claim that the bridge is fit for container movement. To further allay Indian fears, Dhaka has decided to run the loaded train from their end.
Considering the load restrictions on Jamuna bridge and the inadequacy of rail network in Bangladesh, India had previously proposed setting up a rail-connected dry port facility, right across the border.
The aim was to promote rail movement for the Indian leg of the journey, while offering wide logistics choice for movement of goods in Bangladesh.
The proposal was discussed by the Bangladesh-India Joint Working Group in 2013 and 2014, said the Business Line report.