THE Bangladesh Railway’s move for an elevated electric traction system for high-speed trains between Dhaka and Chattogram — despite having a double-line system in the section but for a stretch spanning 72 kilometres between Dhaka and Cumilla and a yet-to-be-implemented old plan for a chord line between Dhaka and Cumilla that will also connect Chattogram — has raised worry as much among experts as within the railway agency. The railway distance between Dhaka and Chattogram now is 320.79 kilometres, having double lines all along but for the 72-kilometre stretch between Akhaura and Laksam. Work on double lines for the single-line stretch has already been in progress. An old plan for a chord line, which will reduce the distance between Dhaka and Chattogram by about 90 kilometres as it will run straight between Dhaka and Cumilla, has, meanwhile, lied over for about a decade. Experts within the railway and outside believe that a double-line system would ease much of the pressure on the route while a chord line will greatly improve the train service in terms of reduction in distance and travel time and will not be that much of a burden on the railway in terms of the operational cost.
In such a situation, a high-speed train system on the route, which will reduce the distance to 227.3 kilometres — while the chord line will reduce the distance to 227.01 kilometres and the travel time significantly — is viewed by many as priority being given to the wrong segment of the railway development plan as it would, as the feasibility study says, cost Tk 970 billion although it would reduce the travel time by a fifth and could carry 50,000 passengers a day. It is perceived that such a huge amount of money being spent on the development, which could be considered more than what is needed, of the railway system would be unwise while train services especially on the routes connecting the capital city to the north has been in a poor shape. The Bangladesh Railway, keeping to its own records, incurred about Tk 17.38 billion in losses in the 2018–2019 financial year, up from Tk 14.32 billion the year before. The Bangladesh Railway’s loss in the 2016–2017 financial year was Tk 15.32 billion and the 2015–2016 financial year, Tk 13.25 billion. The railway is visibly floundering in an increasingly growing pool of losses. More development focus on a single route of the railway is also feared to be causing more losses as services on other routes would remain uncared for.
Bangladesh must go for the latest technology in railway services if they are required and if they are of great benefits. But the government must develop all segments of the railway services with an evenly distributed focus. While mismanagement and irregularities are routinely blamed for the poor state of the Bangladesh Railway by almost all, much of its failure also stems from its failure to prioritise areas where it should make the investments first. The government should not, therefore, put the money in expensive plans for only one section of the railway as the money, with an evenly distributed focus, could improve the situation on the whole.
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