Bangladesh Railway in quagmire

Service week begins today

Shahin Akhter | Published: 00:00, Dec 04,2019 | Updated: 12:19, Dec 04,2019


Bangladesh Railway is limping with serious problems like disruption in train schedules, ticket crisis and huge losses due to lack of technical and sustainable initiatives, said experts and rights activists.

The standard of its services would deteriorate further if the railway continues to take traditional and non-sustainable measures to improve its services, they added.

Against this backdrop, the authorities of the largest public transport system are going to observe a service week from today to mark the eighth founding anniversary of the railway ministry and to improve its services.

The experts and activists feel that the observance of the week will do little to improve the services as this is just a non-technical and non-sustainable initiative.

Disruption in train schedules is one of the most nagging problems in the railway service which becomes severe during festivals when the authorities are even forced to cancel scheduled trains trips adding to the woes of the travellers.

Currently the railway is struggling to run trains on the Joydebpur-Ishwardi section using the existing rail tracks on the Bangabandhu Bridge.

Officials said that at present 42 trains run on the Joydebpur-Ishwardi section via the Bangabandhu Bridge while the railway had the capacity for running maximum 22 trains on the section in the block system that allows only one train to run between the two stations over the bridge.

All trains are required to wait for at least half an hour at both west and east sides of the seven-kilometre-long bridge when any train passes it with a maximum speed of 20 kilometres per hour.

Crisis of tickets has long been a core problem for the railway with passengers seen waiting for tickets for hours but failing to get one.

According to the railway, it incurred a Tk 1,738.37 crore loss in the 2018-19 fiscal year with the net operating income being Tk 1,392.48 crore and the net operating expenditure Tk 3,130.85.

In the 2017-18 fiscal year the amount of loss was Tk 1,431.86 crore, in 2016-17  Tk 1,531.76 crore and in 2015-16 Tk 1,325.20 crore. 

Professor Shamsul Hoque, former director of the Accident Research Institute under Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, said that formation of taskforces to ensure passenger services was a non-technical and non-sustainable initiative.

He viewed that that if the railway included officials from other entities in its task forces then it would be more acceptable as no one could evaluate own problems.

In recent years thousands of crores of taka was invested in the railway while people were still getting poor railway services, he said, alleging that some of the railway officials benefited from these investments.

Shamsul suggested public-private partnership to improve the services and make railway profitable providing for the authorities to develop infrastructures and private operators to provide services.

Work for a Better Bangladesh Trust project officer Atiqur Rahman told New Age that each year the railway observed a service week which did not bring any positive result for the passengers.

He also said that the authorities should ask passengers what services they should offer in this service week and take measures accordingly.

But the railway is limping with severe disruption in schedules, losses, old coaches and locomotives and dirty platforms and bathrooms, he added.

Director general of Bangladesh Railway, Md Shamsuzzaman told New Age on Tuesday that they did not have schedule problem on the routes in the eastern zone and the routes inside the western zone but only on the route connecting Dhaka and the western zone.

He explained that trains like Kapotaskh Express on the Khulna-Rajshahi route and Barendra Express on the Rajshahi-Chilahati route run inside the west zone with no disruption in schedules.

Currently on the Joydebpur Bypass-Ishwardi section, via  the Bangabandhu Bridge,14 passenger trains including four trains from Kurigram and Parbatipur, another four trains from Rajshahi, three trains from Khulna and another three trains from Lalmonirhat and Kurigram run every day, he said.

Shamsuzzaman also said that these movements created management problems as the section has a single line and low sectional speed.

 ‘We have to increase the sectional speed on this line and soon we will open a station at Sharatnagar on this section to increase the speed of trains,’ he said.

He further said that demand and supply of the train tickets did not match.

‘We are trying to handle the allegations of not getting tickets,’ Shamsuzzaman said.

He also said that the railway could not behave like a commercial entity as it had social responsibility.

‘We cannot increase prices of train tickets for profit,’ he said, adding, ‘We are trying to stop the leakages behind our losses.’ 

For the service  week 10 taskforces were formed comprising officials from the ministry and Bangladesh Railway who would observe the schedules of trains, take necessary initiatives to ensure proper ticketing system by providing passenger information and preventing black marketing of tickets, observe platforms, railway bridges, condition of the supply of electricity and water and lights in running trains and bathrooms, staff attitude with the passengers and activities of the officials concerned till December 11.

The week will be officially inaugurated by the railway minister Nurul Islam Sujan tomorrow (Thursday) at the Dhaka railway station at Kamalapur in the afternoon while the taskforces would start working from today (Wednesday), said officials.

Primary treatment services like checking blood pressure and diabetes would be provided to the passengers at the stations adjacent to the railway hospitals and policing activities would be strengthened during the week, they added. 

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