India is planning to conduct a trial run of a container train between Dhaka and Kolkata this year - to move a step closer to a proposed 6,000 km trans-continental integrated freight railway network project connecting five countries - Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey.
But experts are wary of Pakistan playing spoilsport because the project, aimed to boost trade and economic development of the region, is seen as a response to China's One Belt One Road initiative.
A Railway Ministry official said that "a demonstration container train between Bangladesh and India has been planned in the first quarter of the 2017-18 and the modalities of have been agreed by senior officials of both countries."
The official said that the railway heads of the five countries would also be meeting in Delhi later this month "to appreciate and sort out the issues" related to the trans-continental freight network, named the ITI-DKD-Y corridor that will pass through Dhaka-Kolkata-Delhi-Amritsar-Lahore-Islamabad-Zahedan-Tehran-Istanbul.
Pakistan railway chief Javed Anwar is also being invited.
The feasibility studies of the strategic route connecting the capitals of the countries have been done by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) as part of its Trans-Asian Railway (TAR) project for an integrated freight network across Europe and Asia.
Former diplomats are, however, apprehensive if Pakistan would be willing to join the project at this stage even if Islamabad in 2006 signed the overall 80,900-km TAR network project, that would originate from the Pacific seaboard of Asia and end on the doorsteps of Europe.
"This (ITI-DKD-Y) project is not feasible at this stage. Currently, we have a tough relation with Pakistan. How can this rail project be implemented if even the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline) has not been implemented. At this juncture the project can't be executed," Pinak Chakravarty, a former Indian envoy to Bangladesh, said.
Chakravarty said India should plan to execute the project only after it is able to execute other pending projects involving Pakistan.
Sheel Kant Sharma, former Secretary General of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, said the government should discuss the project with Pakistan to sort out issues related to "a way too ambitious project".
"The project has several obstacles in its way. India is trying to do this because its neighbour China has executed a rail project to London. At the same time Pakistan and China have cordial relations. In such a situation why will Pakistan let India execute the project," Sharma told IANS.
Railway ministry officials said various conferences have earlier been held with the countries involved in the project that would also include the rail networks in Nepal. Nepal can be connected via the existing and operational rail route of Birgunj (a border town in Parsa District of southern Nepal)-Kolkata.
Bhutan and Afghanistan that do not have rail connectivity at present may also be connected at a later stage, the officials said.
"Bhutan can be connected by road from Kolkata (existing route) and containers can be loaded in Afghanistan by connecting road routes with the railway network either at Quetta through Spin Boldak (in the southern Kandahar province of Afghanistan)-Chaman (capital of Qilla Abdullah District, Balochistan) or at Islamabad through Torkham (one of the major International border crossings between Pakistan and Afghanistan," an official explained.