The Container Corporation of India (Concor), a PSU under the Ministry of Railways, has begun dedicated container train services to Bangladesh through the Petrapole–Benapole border route.

This is the second such dedicated service to the neighbouring nation after the Gede-Darshana route (passing through Nadia district in West Bengal).

According to a senior official, the “permanent service” will connect various stations in Bangladesh that include Benapole, Jessore, Singia, Noapara and BBW. The trains will have 60 containers (called TEUs or twenty-foot equivalent units) with a maximum weight of 27 tonnes in each TEU.

Exporters can directly load their cargo at the Concor terminal in Majerhat, get customs clearance and put an Electronic Cargo Tracking System seal.

First train flagged off

The first such container train service along the Petrapole-Benapole route was flagged off from Concor’s dedicated terminal at Majerhat in Kolkata. The train had 50 TEUs, of which 40 TEUs consisted of FMCG cargo and another 10 TEUs of fabrics. Indian side exporters included Procter & Gamble India, Arvind Ltd, and Vardhaman Textiles.

“The train halted for about 25 minutes at the zero line (on Sunday) to complete immigration formalities,” BSF said in a statement, adding that containers are “electronically sealed” thereby making it “impossible” for smugglers to tamper and put smuggled baggage inside (containers). Incidentally, there have been previous instances of goods trains being tampered with for human trafficking and to smuggle contraband.

De-risking trade

While the container train services are said to be cheaper – with one container train of 60 TEUs being equivalent to 120-150 trucks, the move is also being seen as an attempt to de-risk bilateral trade from dependence on roadways.

The Petrapole-Benapole route (roadways) accounts for the majority of the $11-billion India- Bangladesh bilateral trade. Petrapole – Asia’s largest land port – handles 500-550 trucks from India and around 100-150 from Bangladesh. Over the last few months, trade along this route has been hit - firstly because of the pandemic and then due to local resistance because of fear of spread of virus.

Moreover, exporters and importers of both nations have been looking for alternatives to avoid congestion, delays and multiple handling of cargo at Petrapole, which lead to increase in costs.

Waterways have also been explored as an alternative. In fact, maiden container cargo export from India to Bangladesh using inland waterways reached Pangaon International Container Terminal at Dhaka earlier this month.

The barge MV Pruthvi carrying 45 TEUs of sponge iron was flagged off from Haldia port, 130 km from Kolkata, on the Indo-Bangladesh Protocol Route.