THE railway has for long been suffering from lack of proper planning and investment as transport sector policies are largely focused on roads and highways. In the past decade, there has been very little government attention paid to railway human resource development. Official records show that about 35 per cent of 1,742 sanctioned positions of train drivers are vacant. There are 1,129 train drivers of various ranks to run 360 passengers and 26 freight trains which are far too few to ensure safe and quality services. To meet the train driver shortage, the railway authorities are now compelled to engage all drivers of all ranks to drive trains even though an entry level driver needs the experience of running trains for at least eight to 10 thousands kilometres to drive trains on the main railway. Since a senior drivers train the entrants, the crisis of engine drivers has also created a trainer shortage. In this context, the railways ministry’s decision to introduce a simulation training that promises to expedite the process is a welcome move.
In the traditional system, the training of an entry level assistant to become a senior engine driver takes eight to 10 years. The custom-made high-tech simulators will run on virtual railway and promise to expedite the training. However, such piecemeal efforts in railway system will not improve the overall condition. Railway remains the most neglected of all mass transport systems although the sector has tremendous potential. The sector is incurring losses on a regular basis because of its depleting resources, a lack of investment in human resources and infrastructure, mismanagement and corruption. The expansion of railway network has been insignificant since independence. In recent past, the Anti-Corruption Commission filed several corruption cases against railway officials. There are instances in which damaged wooden sleepers are replaced with bamboos. There exist 1,085 unauthorised and 2170 unguarded level crossings that routinely cause death and injury. The railway sector, therefore, needs much more than technologically advanced training system for engine drivers.
Despite its decrepit state, the role of the railway is indispensable when compared with other modes of transport such as river vessels and buses. The number of passengers it carries is significant. Yet the potential of the railway remains untapped. It is time that the government through planned investment in railway, signalling, rolling stock, maintenance and human resources modernised the railway sector. The government must take initiative to prepare long-term master plan to guide the overall development of the Bangladesh Railway in the foreseeable future. More importantly, the government must give the railway sector the policy-level attention that it deserves; otherwise, piecemeal efforts will not bring about any sustainable change in the sector.
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